Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear! Celebrating 78 Years of Forest Fire Prevention

by Jon D. B.

Smokey Bear has been educating generations of Americans on the prevention of wildfires since 1944, and today marks the icon’s 78th birthday. To celebrate, the USDA Forest Service is hosting a virtual birthday party for the wildfire icon.

As recognizable today as he was in the 1940s, Smokey Bear’s Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. Wild success aside, wildfires are becoming more and more prevalent amidst our changing climate, and fire prevention remains one of the most critical issues affecting America and our beloved outdoors.

“Smokey’s message is as relevant and urgent today as it was in 1944,” cites the icon’s official Facebook Tuesday. Which is exactly why the Forest Service is pulling out all the stops for his 78th birthday.

To celebrate, Darley Newman, creator and host of Travels with Darley on PBS, will host a virtual birthday party for Smokey Bear. Together with representatives from the USDA Forest Service, Newman and Smokey will appear in his birthday livestream, which you can watch here starting at 3 PM ET.

It’s sure to be a good time, so tune in courtesy of Smokey Bear’s social media accounts.

The Incredible Legacy of Smokey Bear, a True American Icon

If you know Smokey, then you know he was once a real bear born in the 1950s. Yet his origins stretch even further back to 1944. He first appeared as a mascot that year on August 9th, when the Forest Service revealed the first poster featuring his likeness. The inspiration? Disney’s 1942 classic, Bambi.

The first artwork featuring Smokey Bear came courtesy of artist Albert Staehle. Staehle’s poster shows a bear pouring a bucket of water onto a campfire – and an icon was born as a result.

President Truman receives a Smokey the Bear sign from U.S. Forest Service chief Lyle F. Watts (far r) in the Oval Office. Witnessing the event are: North Carolina State Forester W. K Beichler (far l); Secretary of Agriculture Charles F. Brennan (2nd l); and Fire Warden James W. Simon of Los Angeles. | Location: The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D. C., USA. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The legacy of Smokey as a real-life bear came at the start of the next decade. In the spring of 1950, the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico caught fire, and a horrific, historic wildfire took over. Droves of wildlife were decimated in the fire alongside countless acres of forest. Scouring the ashes, local firefighters stumbled upon a lone bear cub – and the “real” Smokey Bear came to be.

As a young cub, Smokey would find a home in the National Zoo of Washington, D.C. There he thrived until his death in 1976. Throughout his life, the ursine icon brought fantastic allies to his conservation cause; something his advertising counterpart continues to this day. One of his most beloved (and famous) was the late Betty White, a true conservation icon in her own right.

Today, Outsiders can further his legacy by heeding Smokey’s wildfire prevention messages and tactics. As wildfire’s continue to plague American wilds at unprecedented rates, his guidance is more important now than ever.

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear!