The biography of the real Smokey Bear
The biography of the real Smokey Bear Smokey the bear being given a fire helmet by Washington Fire Departments’ deputy fire chief, M.H. Sutton in 1950. (Bettmann/CORBIS/Library of Congress)
The biography of the real Smokey Bear
Lexile: 1180L

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The first Smokey Bear poster shows a brown-coated bear wearing jeans. He's peering shyly up from under a campaign hat as he pours a bucket of water over a campfire. "SMOKEY SAYS," the poster reads, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!"
Albert Staehle, the illustrator, might have chosen a bear (over the suggested raccoon) because he wanted Smokey to look like the father of the forest, as his wife later recalled. But many will forever associate the cartoon with a real bear cub, whose paws and belly were singed in a 1950 spring wildfire.
In a biography - "Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left His Pawprints on History" - the "real" Smokey is getting a proper tribute, reports the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in South Florida. The book's author, Karen Signell, first met Smokey when he was a cub, living at the National Zoo in Washington.
The cub had been rescued by a game warden, Ray Bell, fighting a fire in New Mexico's Capitan Mountains. Don Bell was 15 when his father came home with the five-pound bear. The Sun Sentinel's Brittany Shammas reports:
"The Bell family was constantly taking in wild animals, so Don Bell didn't think much of the 'cute little guy' who slept in a rabbit cage on the back porch. But the story of the rescued cub would become a national phenomenon. Smokey's arrival at the capital airport drew hundreds of reporters, photographers and onlookers, and he appeared in newspapers across the country."
At the zoo, Smokey drew millions of visitors during his 26 years in residence. Having a living animal symbol helped make the wildfire-safety campaign more visible, Signell writes in Smokey's biography. The Smokey ads were also a far better choice, at least to modern eyes, than the racial caricatures that populated the previous campaign. (The obsession with forest fire prevention kicked off during World War II after a Japanese submarine fired shells into an oil field in Southern California, very close to Los Padres National Forest.)
Signell visited the cub not long after he reached the zoo, and she writes Smokey's story from his perspective. Don Bell told the Sun-Sentinel he feared it might be "hokey" but that "(a)fter she got it all put together and everything and finished it up, I read it and I think she did a pretty good job."
On her site, Signell writes:
"I thought of the book as a fictionalized historical biography. And, from the beginning, I wrote it mainly for adults, but also youngsters. I chose to write the novel from the bear's point of view (but in the third person), in my respect for the wild animal's intelligence and my empathy for his emotions. It was not easy to write this way. I had to imagine how he smelled his world, what sounds he made ... But I was greatly helped by naturalists' books with vivid descriptions of cubs and bears they knew well."
Other famous National Zoo residents during Smokey's life also make appearances in the novel. Expect to hear about the Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two giant pandas gifted from China after President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit and space-chimp Ham's retirement.

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How does Smokey help prevent forest fires?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • BrandonS-pla
    10/23/2020 - 03:50 p.m.

    In this article "The biography of the real Smokey Bear" it goes deep through the history of Smokey Bear and the origins of Smokey. Throughout the article, we find out that Smokey is an actual bear and that he was rescued by a family: The Bells. Which I thought was kind of cool and interesting. It also talks about the reporter; Signell who wrote a novel about Smokey and the challenges that she had with his novel. Overall I thought this article was very interesting and informative, I learned a lot of backstory behind Smokey and to me, this article just strengthens his image as an activist.

  • Emmar-pla
    3/09/2021 - 02:05 p.m.

    This article covers the backstory of Smokey the Bear. Smokey the Bear is a fictional cartoon character that is known for his appearances in forest fire safety ads. This character is based on a real bear that the artist's family had for a portion of time after it was injured in a wildfire. The bear was then shipped to live in a zoo as a real-life example of the importance of fire safety precautions. This article relates to civic engagement because as Smokey says, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" It takes everyone being safe with fire to prevent catastrophic damage to our forests and wildlife.

  • Paytonm-pla
    3/09/2021 - 03:40 p.m.

    Smokey the Bear is known for drawing awareness to preventing wildfires. The civic engagement involved in the idea of Smokey the Bear is very useful as it creates a "poster child" for wildfire prevention and is a great reminder for people to take care of their environment. But Smokey the Bear was also a real cub. The Bear was rescued in a fire in New Mexico and then spent 27 years in the National Zoo in Washington. He was the inspiration for the cartoon, illustrated by Albert Staehle. Writer, Karen Signell, wrote her own biography for Smokey, giving tribute to the iconic bear.

  • CamdenD-cre
    4/19/2021 - 09:10 a.m.

    By telling to care for them.

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