The Real Story of Smokey Bear?

history of Smokey BearSpringtime is here, which means beautiful wildflowers, perfect hiking conditions, and…the beginning of fire season. Luckily we have Smokey Bear, the endearing symbol of wildfire prevention. Each year I make a point to remind all of my dear readers and fellow hikers that we need to be vigilant, and not only implement campfire safety techniques, but also help educate others about Smokey Bear with the goal to help prevent unplanned wildfires.  How did Smokey Bear come about?  This year I’ll delve into the history of Smokey Bear, and why this much loved image of a half dressed bear wearing the iconic flat brimmed hat of a U.S. park ranger will be in the hearts and minds of generations to come.

History of Smokey Bear

The Early Years

In 1944, in the midst of World War II, the “Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention” public service advertising campaign was introduced.  As the war raged on, the Japanese attempted (unsuccessfully) to attack coastal Oregon forests and ravage the land with wildfires.  They even sent 9,000 “fire balloons” into the jet stream to attempt to create devastating forest fires.  It was a critical time for Americans to be educated about wildfire prevention, and who better to tell the story than the adorable, protector of our forests…Smokey Bear!
History of Smokey Bear

The Real Smokey Bear!

Smokey Bear was a real bear! Back in 1950, a quite lucky little American black bear cub, “Smokey”, was caught in a huge 17,000 acre wildfire in New Mexico. The three-month-old cub was rescued after the fire, suffering burns on his hind legs and paws. His luck did not end there. Who better to nurse him back to health but a ranger from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish! After garnering some media attention, Smokey was flown to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and over his lifetime had millions of visitors. He received so much fan mail that the U.S. Postal Service had to create a new zip code for him! Smokey Bear lived in the National Zoo for the rest of his 26 year life, and was buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in New Mexico.

Smokey Bear in Your Life

What can you do to keep the story and more importantly, the message, of Smokey Bear alive? Smokey Bear Pledge
Before you hit the trails this spring and summer, take the Smokey Bear pledge, do your part to prevent wildfires, and tell all of your hiking friends that we can all do our part to help Smokey prevent wildfires. 🙂


Happy trails! 🙂


  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Susan, as a Californian I couldn’t agree more! Everyone needs to understand forest fire prevention to avoid another 2020 fire year. Happy trails to you once the smoke fully clears!

  2. Susan says:

    In California, we need Smokey the Bear NOW, more than ever, to help educate children and adults in the prevention of forest fires and yes, wildfires too. Instead of advertising the latest i Phones and new model 2021 cars – how about some constructive advertising? CAL FIRE and the USDF – Forest Service need to resurrect Smokey the Bear for today’s population! How can we get the message out there? I and my husband are hikers and he is a lifelong backpacker (PCT & Desert areas). The messages of yesteryear are CRITICAL to train everyone – that YES, they CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES.

  3. Donna says:

    This was new to me too regarding the origins of Smokey Bear. Fire balloons during WWII?
    I appreciate you posting these interesting tidbits on your website.

  4. Erin says:

    Wow I had no idea the long history of Smokey Bear! What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing Hiking Lady.

  5. Carl says:

    I recall seeing commercials with Smokey Bear as a child back in the 80s. Brings back fond memories.

    The Smokey Bear Pledge is a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

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