Happy Birthday Smokey Bear: Celebrating Nature Icon on Anniversary of First U.S. Forest Service Appearance

by Jon D. B.

Yes, that is Smokey the Bear handing Betty White a little plush of himself above. And yes, it is Smokey Bear’s birthday! Celebrate this irreplaceable conservation icon’s legacy with your fellow Outsiders today through these rare photographs and facts.

Firstly, Happy Birthday Smokey Bear! The wilds of America owe a great debt to one bear who’s been changing America for the better since August 9, 1944.

Now, some 8 decades on, he remains a symbol of conservation at its finest – a friend to wildlife and all Outsiders alike. In fact, Smokey has made some of the most famous friends of any icon in America’s history. And it’s all due to the remarkable cause he represents.

The Ultimate Symbol of Conservation

Smokey bear with campers in 1983. (Denver Post via Getty Images)

While the National Forest campaign predates him by six years, Smokey would actually become a living, breathing bear that Americans became obsessed with.

Back in the spring of 1950, the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico caught fire in a tremendous way. The horrible flames took untold acres of forest – decimating droves of wildlife with it. Among the wreckage, brave firefighters were able to rescue a lone bear cub – and the “real” Smokey Bear was born.

The real Smokey Bear would remain at his home in the National Zoo of Washington, D.C. until his death in 1976. In his incredible time, the legendary ursine would bring some tremendous allies to his conservation cause.

In truth, however, Smokey Bear’s origins reach all the way back to 1944. The character would first appear on August 9 of that year. It was on this day that Smokey was first authorized by the Forest Service, and the first poster featuring his likeness would be made. The inspiration? Disney’s 1942 masterpiece: Bambi.

The first full poster showing Smokey would come courtesy of artist Albert Staehle, cites the icon’s official site. Staehle’s original artwork shows a bear pouring a bucket of water onto a campfire – and an icon would result.

Smokey Bear: The Icon’s Icon

Through countless brilliant posters (of which this author and wildlife tech’s house is lined), television spots, campaigns, and educational outreach programs, Smokey would become the icon’s icon almost from the get-go.

(Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Above, we see President Truman receiving a Smokey Bear sign from U.S. Forest Service chief Lyle F. Watts (far right) in the Oval Office of his time (1945-1953). President Truman’s smile says it all.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Another friend of Smokey’s? The one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger! Above, we see the former California Governor and action icon as he holds up his own Smokey Bear doll after being named an Honorary Forest Ranger. The Forest Service did so on behalf of his leadership on climate change at the U.S. Forest Services Honorary Forest Ranger ceremony.

And then, of course, there’s this treasure of a photo. Two of the world’s finest conservation legends are seen within: Smokey Bear – and Betty White. Here, White is presented with a Smokey doll and a U.S. Forest Ranger hat after being named an honorary Forest Ranger at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 9, 2010 in Washington, DC.

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear!