From one senior to another, Happy Birthday Smokey Bear! And in case you weren’t aware, the burly bruin turned 70 last Saturday. But retirement is not in the cards for the beloved bear with the brimmed hat and shovel, as Smokey, now in his golden years, continues his fire prevention message.
Smokey’s story is pretty interesting. He was born during World War II in 1944 (well, technically created, but we’re not going to fuss with details here) amidst fears that America’s enemies would set forest fires while most of the country’s firefighters were fighting the war overseas.
Eventually, Smokey’s appeal, with his teddy bear image and appearances in comic strips, shifted to children, and in 1950 the campaign got a big boost when a real bear cub that had been rescued from a New Mexico Wildfire was nursed back to health and went to live happily at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
By 1952, Smokey even had his own zip code to handle the mountains of fan letters from the little people. And in 1984 the U.S. Postal Service issued a Smokey Bear stamp to celebrate his 40th birthday (by the way, 30 years ago it cost 20 cents to mail a letter.)
Smokey’s public relations team (after all, that’s a celebrity must) changed his classic line in 2001 to the more updated phrase, “Only you can prevent wildfires,”
and revamped the campaign to address the growing threat of wildfires in suburban and urban areas.
Today, Smokey Bear is at the center of the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history. Research shows he is known by 96 percent of Americans and ranks near Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus in name recognition.
And the senior citizen is no slouch either. He has his own web site www.smokeybear.com, and is all over social media – Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and countless others.
So grab a pot of honey, don’t bring any candles to the party (they can start fires, you know) and feel free to launch into a rousing Happy Birthday. I’ll join you in the chorus.