Smokey Bear came to us by necessity. At the beginning of World War II, Americans feared that an enemy attack or sabotage could destroy our forest resources at a time when wood products were greatly needed. In the spring of 1942 a Japanese submarine fired shells onto an oil field in Southern California near Los Padres National Forest. Government officials were relieved that the shelling did not start a forest fire but were determined to provide protection.
The USDA Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) Program in 1942. It encouraged citizens nationwide to make a personal effort to prevent forest fires. It was a mobilized civilian effort in support of the war effort to protect valuable trees. Timber was a primary commodity for battleships, gunstocks, and packing crates for military transport.
Walt Disney's "Bambi" character was very popular and was used on an initial anti-fire poster. The success of this poster demonstrated that an animal of the forest was the best messenger to promote the prevention of accidental forest fires. On August 2, 1944, the Forest Service and the War Advertising Council introduced a bear as their campaign symbol.
Albert Staehle, noted illustrator of animals, worked with this description to paint the forest fire prevention bear. His art appeared in the 1945 campaign, and the advertising symbol was given the name "Smokey Bear." The bear was named "Smokey" after "Smokey" Joe Martin, who was Assistant Chief of the New York City Fire Department from 1919 to 1930.
Rudy Wendelin, an artist for the Forest Service, began producing a tremendous quantity of Smokey Bear art in various media for special events, publications, and licensed products to promote the fire prevention symbol. Long after retiring, he created the art for the Smokey Bear's 40th anniversary commemorative U.S. Postage stamp. Many within the Forest Service still acknowledges Wendelin as being the true "Smokey Bear artist."
The Ad Campaign
After World War II, the War Advertising Council changed its name to The Advertising Council. In the years that followed, the focus of Smokey's campaign broadened to appeal to children as well as adults. But it was not until the 1965 campaign and the work of Smokey artist Chuck Kuderna, that Smokey's image evolved into the one we know today.
The Smokey Bear concept has matured into a cottage industry of collectables and educational material on fire prevention. One of the most popular Smokey products is a set of posters known as his educational poster collection.
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