2001-Thu Jan 19 14:24:59 MST 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
August 9 is the 70th birthday of one of the most famous fictional animals in America. Smokey Bear was created in 1944 as spokesbear for a national forest fire prevention campaign, and he's still going strong. In celebration of Smokey's birthday, we're looking back on his history, his real-life counterpart and why his message is still important.
In spring 1950, after a major forest fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, firefighters found a bear cub in a charred tree with burns to his paws and hind legs. When the state fish and game department had the cub flown to Santa Fe for veterinary care, the story basically went viral: It was picked up by national news agencies, and people from all over the country wrote and called to find out how the cub was doing. At first called "Hot Foot Teddy," the cub's name was changed when people realized that there was a job opening he was perfect for: as the living symbol of
Smokey Bear, a character who was teaching Americans how to prevent fires like the one that had injured him.
The newly renamed Smokey was offered a home at the
National Zoo in Washington, D.C., but it wasn't easy to get him there. When the commercial airlines couldn't be persuaded to let him travel in the passenger compartment or have a human accompany him in the baggage section, the Piper Aircraft company came to the rescue, providing a small plane painted with Smokey's name and an illustration of him with his arm in a sling and wearing his iconic hat. After an overnight stop at the
Saint Louis Zoo, Smokey was greeted by crowds of fans and media in
Washington on June 27, 1950.
Smokey became so popular that he was given his own ZIP code for the 13,000 letters he received each week and had three full-time assistants to answer them. He dined on trout, bluefish and peanut butter sandwiches, and in 1962, the
zoo got him a mate, a female named Goldie, who arrived with much fanfare, including a motorcycle escort and giant wedding ring. Sadly, they never had offspring, although in 1971, an orphaned cub named Little Smokey was brought in to succeed the famous bear.
Smokey retired in 1975 when he was 25 years old. In bear years, that's roughly the federal mandatory retirement age of 70, and he was given a membership card for the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. Overshadowed at that point by the famous pair of
giant pandas that had arrived at the
zoo in 1972, Smokey lived out his final days there until his death on November 9, 1976. Many newspapers ran obituaries. The
Washington Post obituary, headlined "S. Bear, Firefighter," read in part:
Although he had no formal schooling, Mr. Bear was accepted into the Park Service shortly after his arrival in Washington, and remained with that agency until his retirement a year ago this month. ... Like many Americans on a fixed income, Mr. Bear found that he did not have enough money to retire to a specially constructed grotto in New Mexico, as he had originally planned. Instead, he moved to a cage in the zoo next door to the cage he had occupied for years.
Mr. Bear was married in 1962 to the former Goldie Bear, who was not a blood relation, despite the similarity of last names.
Smokey was buried at
Smokey Bear Historical Park
in his hometown of Capitan, NM.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Want to choose the best food for your
pet? Here's why you shouldn't fear
preservatives or fall for marketing…
Electronic cigarettes may be growing in
popularity, but their higher concentrations
of nicotine can poison cats and…
Are you handling your pet the right way?
Our vet shares five things your pup wishes
you knew about picking him up.
We combed through 505,270 kitten
names to determine the hottest male
and female monikers of the year.
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
The laid-back American Wirehair’s crimped, coarse coat requires almost no brushing or combing.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.