Smokey Bear Origin


As the result of a recent series of conversations between the Newtown Square Fire Company and both the local office and the national public relation office of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the local volunteer firefighters have been granted permission to share the store about one of America’s favorite heroes, Smokey Bear.
 

To understand how Smokey Bear became associated with forest fire prevention, we must go back to World War II. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. The following spring in 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the coast of Southern California and fired a salvo of shells that exploded on an oil field near Santa Barbara, very close to the Los Padres National Forest. Americans throughout the country were shocked by the news that the war had now been brought directly to the American mainland. There was concern that further attacks could bring a disastrous loss of life and destruction of property. There was also a fear that enemy incendiary shells exploding in the timber stands of the Pacific Coast could easily set off numerous raging forest fires. With experienced firefighters and other able-bodied men engaged in the armed forces, the home communities had to deal with the forest fires as best they could. Protection of these forests became a matter of national importance, and a new idea was born. If people could be urged to be more careful, perhaps some of the fires could be prevented. With this is mind, the Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign with the help of the Wartime Advertising Council.

Posters and slogans were created by the War Advertising Council, including "Forest Fires Aid the Enemy," and "Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon." By using catchy phrases, colorful posters and other fire prevention messages, the Advertising Council suggested that people could prevent accidental fires and help win the war.


Walt Disney's motion picture, "Bambi" was produced in 1944 and Disney let the forest fire prevention campaign use his creation on a poster. The "Bambi" poster was a success and proved that using an animal as a fire prevention symbol would work. A fawn could not be used in subsequent campaigns because "Bambi" was on loan from Walt Disney studios for only one year; the Forest Service would need to find an animal that would belong to the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign. It was finally decided that the Nation's number one firefighter should be a bear.

On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was prepared. The poster depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. Smokey Bear soon became popular, and his image began appearing on other posters and cards. In 1952, Smokey Bear had enough public recognition to attract commercial interest. An Act of Congress passed to take Smokey out of the public domain and place him under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Act provided for the use of collected royalties and fees for continued education on forest fire prevention. We still have a lot of work to do. The Smokey Bear wildfire prevention message is as vital today as ever before. Each new generation must be reminded of their role in wildfire prevention.

During this recent dialog with the St. Paul, Minnesota office of the US Forest Service, Their Deb Dietzman suggested the Newtown Square Fire Company also share the origin of the now-famous Smokey Bear

 
Did you know the cartoon Smokey Bear is based upon an actual baby black bear that was found alone, charred, and scared after a devastating wildfire burned through New Mexico?
 
One spring day in 1950 in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, an operator in one of the fire towers to the north of the Capitans spotted smoke and called the location into the nearest ranger station. The first crew discovered a major fire being swept along the ground between the trees, driven by a strong wind. Word spread rapidly and more crews reported to help. Forest Rangers, army soldiers, men from the New Mexico State Game Department, and civilian volunteers worked together to gain control of the raging fire. As soon as they contained the fire to one spot, the wind would push it across the lines. During one of the lulls in firefighting, a report of a lonely bear cub who had been seen wandering near the fireline was reported. The men left him alone because they thought the mother bear might come for him.
 
Several soldiers were caught directly in the path of the fire storm, barely escaping by laying face down on a rockslide for over an hour until the fire had burned past them. In spite of the experience, the firefighters were safe except for a few scorches and some burned holes in their clothes.

 
In 1952 Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the anthem that would cause a debate among Smokey enthusiasts for the next several decades. In order to maintain the correct rhythm, the writers added a "the" between "Smokey" and "Bear." As testament to the song's popularity, Smokey Bear became known as "Smokey The Bear" to many adoring fans, but in actuality his name never changed, and he is still known correctly as Smokey Bear
 

For visitors to the Newtown Square Fire Company Web page wishing to see the actual song, the local volunteer firefighters have made this song available.
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