Smokey Bear: From cute to buff, and in between

The icon’s many images changed over the years alongside the Forest Service’s changing attitudes toward wildfire.


Is there an American who hasn't heard of Smokey Bear and his fire-prevention message? The stern-faced bruin with his jeans and shovel is the mascot of the nation's longest-running public service campaign, created by the U.S. Forest Service during World War II, when a rash of forest fires destroyed wood needed for rifles and airplanes.

For 50 years, the bear convinced children that all forest fires are bad. But fire suppression left Western forests overloaded with fuel and prone to bigger, more destructive blazes.

As people gradually realized that forests do need fire, attitudes changed and so did Smokey. He went from big-bellied to downright buff, and began broadcasting new slogans.

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