Smokey Bear turns 70 on Saturday, August 9. And, no, he doesn’t want candles on his cake.
The U.S. Forest Service created the Smokey Bear character in 1944 to inspire education and prevention of forest fires in the face of World War II, when most able-bodied men were drafted and could not be spared to fight forest fires in America.
In May 1950, a five-pound North American black bear cub was rescued from a 17,000-acre forest fire near Capitan, New Mexico. The badly burned cub quickly became the "living" Smokey Bear, spending the remainder of his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
According to the Ad Council, 96 percent of Americans recognize the blue-jean-wearing Smokey illustration and his message, "Only you can prevent forest fires." He's the star of the longest-running public service announcement campaign in American history.
"Smokey's message of personal empowerment of people in that they can play a role in saving the forest is very consistent," Peggy Conlon, the president and CEO of the Ad Council, told USA Today. "He has been around for generations; everyone knows and loves him."
That includes Sam Elliot, who has been the voice of Smokey Bear since 2008. Tomorrow, The Big Lebowski actor will celebrate not only Smokey’s birthday but also his own. "August 9, 1944—that was the same date and the same year they started this campaign," Elliot told NPR. "Everywhere you went in those days, at the trailhead there was this iconic vision; it was either a statue or some bear carved into a board."
Smokey has certainly evolved since then, but his image remains much the same. Here's a look through the decades:
Photos courtesy of the Ad Council and USDA.