The REAL Smokey Bear

In honor of Fire Prevention month, we’ll have several posts about records relating to fire prevention.

The cartoon Smokey appeared in 1944 as part of a larger wildfire prevention program, but the story of the real Smokey Bear began in 1950 in New Mexico’s Capitan Mountains. Smokey was just a cub when he was rescued by soldiers who had been sent in to help fight the forest fire burning in the mountains. The story of the little cub spread far and wide, resulting in stays with several state and federal agencies. He was finally turned over to the Forest Service with the understanding that Smokey would be used for publicizing forest fire prevention.

Little Smokey National Archives Identifier: 1849 / Local Identifier: 16-P-1147

After the Forest Service gained custody, Smokey found a home at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC.

National Archives Identifier: 7106747 / Local Identifier: 95-GP-4865-161

You may be wondering why I refer to him as Smokey Bear and not Smokey the Bear. I know growing up I always thought of him as Smokey the Bear. Smokey’s official name has no “the” in the middle though. It was added in 1952 to achieve proper rhythm in the song “Smokey the Bear”, written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins. This version of the song features country star Eddy Arnold.

Smokey the Bear National Archives Identifier: 1850 / Local Identifier: 16-P-1149

You can see more Smokey videos on our YouTube Channel, find records related to Smokey in OPA, and learn more about him and his message on Smokey’s web site.