Smokey Bear: The Iconic Forest Guardian

The New Mexico wildfire of 1950 was unique. Little did the firefighters rescuing a young bear cub from being stuck up a tree, know that it would inspire millions of people, even seven decades later!

Smokey Bear continues to be a symbol of resilience and the vital need to protect wildlife and their natural habitats from wildfires. Between 2013-2022, wildfires across the country impacted more than 7 million acres of land each year!

Let’s take a look at the history of this iconic mascot who continues to inspire us to take proactive steps in preserving our forests, and in safeguarding the environment for the present and future.


The Smokey Bear Campaign

At the core of the Smokey Bear campaign is a simple, yet crucial message in promoting personal responsibility: “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” Smokey's image reminds us that everyone has a part to play in preventing wildfires. 

Whether it's appropriately extinguishing campfires, discarding cigarettes responsibly, or being cautious with outdoor activities, the campaign emphasizes that individual actions can have a huge impact on preserving our forests.

Smokey’s slogan changed from “Only you can prevent forest fires” to “wildfires” in 2001 after a series of wildfires swept across the nation. The distinction between the two phrases is that wildfires are unwanted, unplanned fires that are preventable with corrective actions, while controlled forest fires are necessary in being proactive against wildfires. 

While we’re on the topic of Smokey Bear facts- did you know that Smokey Bear’s name has never actually been the well-known, well-circulated, “Smokey The Bear”? Adding “the” as a middle name was a byproduct of his catchy song written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins in 1952 where “Smokey the Bear” had a better rhythm in the chorus than just “Smokey Bear”. The more you know… 


Interesting Facts About Smokey Bear

  • The original name given to the bear cub that became Smokey was Hotfoot
  • Smokey lived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo
  • Before Smokey became the face of fire prevention, Bambi led the charge.
  • Smokey Bear has his own mailing zip code, 20252, established in 1964. You can send him mail at Smokey Bear Washington, D.C. 20252
  • Smokey has his own Instagram and Twitter accounts
  • Smokey Bear lived to be 26 years old
  • Jackson Weaver was the official voice of Smokey


Remarks from Designer, Matt Smith-Johnson
of Sentient Creative:

The Smokey Bear watch needed to be a fun experience from end-to-end. We wanted to generate excitement, from the packaging, to the watch, and the fun details and extras we’ve woven throughout.

We designed this as a watch Smokey would wear, and maybe distribute as a call to action for wildfire prevention and conservation. Like something you’d get as a member of the Smokey Bear Fan Club.

There are fun little elements unique to each model, and each one is made to look fitting to a particular era.

  • 1944 was Smokey’s first official year, so that variant has a more classic look: decorative numerals, cathedral hands, and a basic case back engraving.
  • 1964 was when Smokey got his own ZIP code, so that variant is a touch more modern, and in-line with a field watch of the day. 

Both feature a big crown (so Smokey’s big paws could set the time) and at 38mm diameter, it still needed to look substantial enough for a bear to wear. There’s also a tiny little shovel as the counterweight on the seconds hand—a fun little detail among many.

I’m a big fan of Smokey Bear. His message is simple, direct, and represents something everyone can agree with (ie: Don’t start a fire and then walk away from it.) I hope this watch turns new people onto Smokey’s legacy and message of preservation, while perhaps inspiring a new interest in watches for others.

How You Can Prevent Forest Fires

The Smokey Bear campaign did a great job of reducing wildfires and raising awareness about fire prevention. Since the campaign’s launch in 1944, there has been a significant decline (over 75%) in the number of human-caused wildfires in the United States. 

But there's still work that can be done through clearing away brush and debris from around your home and neighborhood. We've also seen in recent years that electric companies' downed power lines are to blame for starting wildfires in rural areas that expand into developed areas.

Here in Oregon, fire officials have started working with the surrounding American Indian tribes in setting "prescribed burns". This action helps to remove dead plant material from grasslands and forest floors. It also curbs invasive species, both plant and animal, like bark beetle and creeping ivy. Both of which are culprits in killing off established trees.


Do your part!

Smokey Bear has become a beloved character featured in various forms of media, including cartoons, TV shows, and books. Smokey’s gentle character and timeless message has been ingrained in the hearts of nature lovers for several generations, and more to come!

Do your duty and clean up dried brush and debris from around your home and neighborhood. Never throw cigarettes out your car windows. Stamp them out and throw them away in a trashcan. 

Most importantly, douse your fires until they are completely extinguished! Camp fires can reignite with embers that are still hot to the touch, and with even a small breeze, could start a wildfire. Remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. Join us in helping Smokey Bear keep our nation’s forests safe from wildfire!


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