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75 Years in the Making: The Evolution of Smokey Bear

Today, the icon of the longest-running PSA (public service announcement) campaign in American history turns 75. To celebrate Smokey Bear’s impact on wildfire prevention, we’re taking a walk down memory lane. Read on to see some of Smokey Bear’s greatest moments and how his message and presence has evolved throughout the years.

An Icon is Born

Smokey 1

The start of World War II meant that many firefighters and other able-bodied men were deployed, leaving communities to manage wildfires themselves. This led to the creation of Smokey Bear by the U.S. Forest service, and the creation of the first-ever campaign on October 10,1944 (pictured above). Smokey quickly gained popularity, and by 1952, he had achieved commercial interest.

Easy as “ABC!”

Smokey 2

The ‘50s and ‘60s brought Smokey’s “ABC” campaign. This was a national push to educate the public about wildfire prevention in three easy steps, and it was broadcast to American homes through radio and TV spots. Below is a segment from Kukla and Ollie in 1968, teaching their audience about the ABC method for wildfire prevention.

Smokey Bear - Kukla and Ollie (1968)

Igniting a Spark

During the 1970s, Smokey Bear placed a stronger emphasis on the destruction that carelessness with matches could cause. This is present in the 1972 spot “America the Ugly,” which depicted the nation on fire because of one match. This era took a step away from “tips” and focused more on the consequences of our actions — specifically, the responsibility we all have to protect the great outdoors.

Smokey Bear - America the Ugly (1973)

Making Important Friends

Smokey 4

The 1990’s marked 50 years of wildfire prevention, solidifying Smokey as a household name across multiple generations. His 50th birthday was celebrated across the country and by his cartoon forest friends. In the vintage spot, he can be seen quickly extinguishing the candles on his cake, making a mess in the process. Force of habit!

Smokey Bear - Force of Habit (1993)

Hot Coals, Dragging Chains and Debris, Oh My!

Smokey carried his “only you can prevent forest fires” message into the early 2000s and placed the responsibility on us all to be careful around the campfire. Additionally, the shift in the use of “forest fires” to “wildfires” in Smokey’s messaging is present, as well. In 2010 and beyond, new PSAs were created to educate the public on different ways that wildfires were caused, including hot coals, dragging chains, and burning debris. Smokey’s wildfire prevention message was already resonating with audiences—now, they just needed actionable steps to take.

Smokey Today and Beyond:

For the past 75 years, our nation’s most beloved bear has kept up with the times. He has his own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and he shows off his Snapchat filter throughout the year. This year, Smokey is celebrating his milestone birthday with a new animated emoji campaign, featuring celebrity voices like Betty White, Steven Colbert, Al Roker and Jeff Foxworthy. If one thing is for sure, this icon isn’t stopping anytime soon. Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear!



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