American symbol and "spokesbear" of the National Forest Service. Usually depicted as a big, burly brown bear standing upright on two legs, wearing a pair of blue jeans and a ranger's hat. He usually carries a shovel, and he sternly warns campers that "Only you can prevent forest fires."

There was a real Smokey Bear once. In 1950, there was a big, very destructive forest fire in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico -- 17,000 acres of forest were burned. In the aftermath of the blaze, Harlow Yaeger, a Forest Service ranger, discovered a young, five-pound bear cub clinging to a burned-out tree trunk. His fur and foot pads were singed, and he was very hungry -- Yaeger took the cub off the tree, calmed him down, and gave him to a member of his crew to be taken back to camp for first aid.

Soon after the cub was taken to the camp, New Mexico game wardens came up with the idea of naming the bear "Smokey," after the imaginary bear created by the Forest Service a few years before. Soon, New Mexico and national game officials got together to introduce the cub to the rest of the country as "Smokey Bear", national spokesman for forest fire prevention.

It was decided that Smokey would live at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, but two commercial airlines refused to transport the bear to Washington unless he were placed in the baggage compartment. Luckily, a private pilot from Hobbs, New Mexico volunteered to fly Smokey to the nation's capital. Pictures of Smokey were painted on both sides of the plane's fuselage, and the plane, with Smokey, the pilot, and a couple of rangers, took off.

By this time, news of the miracle bear was starting to circulate around the country. Wherever the plane landed to refuel, crowds of curious onlookers were on hand to greet Smokey. By the time, the plane touched down in Washington and Smokey moved into his new quarters at the national zoo, the former orphan had been enthusiastically adopted by the nation.

Smokey spent 26 years in Washington, eventually growing up into a fairly grumpy bruin, before dying in November of 1976. Smokey's death made headline news nationwide. His body was transported back to New Mexico and buried at Capitan, near the forest where he was originally found. Since the original's death, another bear has been designated as "Smokey Bear" for another generation.

Some facts about Smokey Bear:
  • Smokey's original name was..."Hotfoot."
  • Smokey was so popular that he had his own ZIP Code!
  • Smokey II never quite caught on with the public. So when he died, the Forest Service cremated him.

In 1952, the Smokey Bear Act placed control of the mascot under the United States Department of Agriculture. They licensed his appearance over the years, and used the royalties to support the public service campaigns. That same year, a song by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins added a "the" to the mascot’s name, because it went better with their music.

Over the years, Smokey Bear has been merchandized in various ways. A Smokey board game, a bendy-toy, and children’s books have all been licensed.

In 1958, Dell Comics produced a special which told the true story of Smokey, or, at least, of the rescued cub who was attached to the Smokey name. The cover also featured the anthropomorphic mascot. It was reprinted a number of times over the next decade, and the cover must have suggested something to Dell, because they immediately developed a series for the mascot, which lasted into the early 1960s.

Smokey the Bear Nature Stories featured Smokey, his similarly-dressed cub sidekick, and a raccoon in forest-protecting, animal-saving adventures. Several of the issues included the painted covers more typical of Dell’s (and later, Gold Key’s) adventure series, with a Smokey who resembled a friendly werebear superhero, possibly from Moreau’s Island. There’s something bizarre yet engaging about these issues: a club-wielding, bear-chested Smokey fending off realistically-rendered wolves, determined Smokey piloting a small bush plane, angered Smokey duking it out with a villainous bear. They rank among the most valuable Smokey collectibles. Other covers and artwork were cartoonier in nature. The comic featured animal characters, cutsified versions of real ones. Smokey’s fellow bears, however, have been anthropomorphized; they wear clothing, hunt with rifles, and carelessly leave forest fires burning. In short, they represent humanity.

A 1966 cartoon special, The Ballad of Smokey the Bear was followed by a 1969 Saturday Morning Cartoon, The Smokey Bear Show. Rankin-Bass animation produced both, in partnership with a Japanese studio. The ’66 special had forest animals and tales of Smokey’s exploits. The later cartoon featured adventures with messages related to environmentalism and fire prevention in a woodland community inhabited by Warner Brothers-like cartoon animals. The supporting cast included Mayor Owl, Benny the Bunny, and a number of others. To save money, Rankin reused background music from their earlier Kong Kong ‘toon.

Gold Key, Dell’s successor, began publishing a new Smokey Bear comic in 1971. The series lasted a few years, and featured the characters from the animated series.

As mentioned in an earlier write-up, the "real" Smokey died in 1976. The mascot lives on, of course. In 1984, he received his own U.S. postage stamp, and he continues to speak for the United States Forests Service.

Smokey bear is a euphemism for a cop, usually a state trooper or county cop (county mounty).

The nickname came into being soon after the US Forestry Service invented the cartoon character Smokey Bear. The cartoon bear wears the classic straight brimmed ranger hat, the same as many police officers. It is an easily identifiable (and patently ridiculous) symbol of law enforcement personnel in the US. Truckers spend large amounts of effort finding out where Smokey Bear might be working or running a speed trap. They use radar detectors (fuzz busters) or use CB radio to rat out the bear's location. Truckers live by the credo Don't feed the bears.

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