Lessons in History: August 9, 1944 Smokey Bear Makes His Debut

The United States Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council release posters featuring Smokey Bear for the first time.

Smokey Bear is an American campaign and advertising icon created by the U.S. Forest Service with artist Albert Staehle, possibly in collaboration with writer and art critic Harold Rosenberg. The Wildfire Prevention Campaign is the longest-running public service announcement campaign in the United States. The Ad Council, the United States Forest Service (USFS), the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), and creative agency FCB employ Smokey Bear to educate the public about the dangers of wildfires.

A campaign began in 1944 featuring Smokey and the slogan “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires”. His slogan changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” in 1947 and was associated with Smokey Bear for more than five decades. In April 2001, the message was officially updated to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in response to a massive outbreak of wildfires in natural areas other than forests (such as grasslands), and to clarify that Smokey was promoting the prevention of unplanned outdoor fires, not prescribed burns.[1] Smokey has also had other lines throughout the years, but these have remained his central slogans. According to the Ad Council, 80% of outdoor recreationists correctly identified Smokey Bear’s image and 8 in 10 recognized the campaign PSAs.

Smokey Bear’s name and image are protected by the Smokey Bear Act of 1952 (16 U.S.C. 580 (p-2); 18 U.S.C. 711). Smokey’s name has always intentionally been spelled differently from the adjective “smoky”.

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