Throughout the past 70 years, there's been one person, or bear rather, who has been responsible for educating the world about the dangers of forest fires. Smokey the Bear, the beloved spokesperson for wildfire safety and prevention, turns 70 on Saturday. And while Smokey has taught us that we're the only ones who can prevent forest fires, there's a lot about this nature loving bear that you probably didn't know. Check out the gallery of Smokey the Bear's posters throughout the decades and check out his lesser known facts below.
Smokey's origins in WWII and with Walt Disney.
With the beginning of World War II and many of the country's men fighting overseas, the government's strategy of fighting forest fires shifted to educating local communities on how to stop them in the first place. One early campaign included using characters from Walt Disney's popular 1942 animated film "Bambi" in fire prevention campaigns. But Disney only loaned the characters to the government for a year. After that year was up, Smokey was created as the new symbol of fire prevention.
Smokey's name pays homage to the New York Fire Department.
Smokey's name is a reference to the legendary New York firefighter "Smokey" Joe Martin, who went blind and suffered many burns after a 1922 fire rescue.
There actually was a real Smokey bear.
Well, sort of. A bear who had survived a wildfire by climbing a tree in 1950 ended up being named Smokey, and served as the living embodiment of the mascot. The bear lived briefly in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his caretaker Ray Bell before moving to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The bear passed away in November 1976.
Smokey is one of two people in the entire country who has his own zip code.
The zip code 20252 belongs to Smokey the bear and no other residents. The only other person who can claim a zip code for themselves is the President of the United States. 20252 is in New Hampshire.
Smokey is a bear of many voices.
Many famous human celebrities have lender their voice to Smokey over the years. Jackson Weaver, Jim Cummings, Roger C. Carmel, George Walsh and Gene Ross are among the actors who've voiced the bear. Currently, the iconic western cinema legend Sam Elliott voices the bear.