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
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The first Smokey Bear poster shows a brown-coated bear. He is 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. Its 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. It is in South Florida. The book's author is Karen Signell. She met Smokey when he was a cub. The bear was living at the National Zoo in Washington.
 
The cub had been rescued by a game warden, Ray Bell. He had been 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. It began after a Japanese submarine fired shells into an oil field in Southern California. The area was very close to Los Padres National Forest.)
 
Signell visited the cub not long after he reached the zoo. 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. They are the two giant pandas gifted from China after President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit and space-chimp Ham's retirement.

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


COMMENTS (306)
  • kyannac-pug
    11/09/2016 - 09:33 a.m.

    Smokey the bear helps put out fires reasons why. He helps out by helping people know when it is a high or low chance of a fire. He also is a fire mascot.

    • lillyy-mcd
      12/02/2016 - 11:34 a.m.

      I am slighty desagrying with you. I think he is not helping put out fires by saying the risk of fires, and he is also not helping put them out by being a fire mascot. He helps prevent fires with his story because people feel bad for him and he is a fun character to look up to, instead of a ranger on a sign.

      • sgianp-mcd
        12/06/2016 - 11:23 p.m.

        i have to agree because smokey s supposed to make people feel bad so that they wont be so careless when using fire

      • vanessaa-mcd
        12/10/2016 - 03:39 p.m.

        *I agree with you because the only thing he does is talk about the risks of wildfires.Also,Smokey the bear is helpful in a way.Lastly,I don't think people feel bad for him,so I disagree with you on that.

        • trevorr-mcd
          12/15/2016 - 01:24 a.m.

          I totally agree with you because Smokey the bear has become so popular why would any one feel bad for him. I also feel the same way about every thing.

      • bergens-mcd
        12/13/2016 - 08:22 p.m.

        I totally agree with you

      • christians4-mcd
        12/14/2016 - 07:35 p.m.

        I agree with you because when people see something that looks cute it would make them want to be more cautious which prevents danger. But he also tells the fire danger for a warning when to be more careful or when not to be as careful.

        • andrewg-mcd
          12/15/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

          I agree because he`s a bear so people could be frightened

      • laurend-mcd
        12/14/2016 - 09:40 p.m.

        I have seen a smokey the bear and it just tells u what is the rule is there in that town or natonal forest

      • rileyc1-mcd
        12/15/2016 - 12:30 a.m.

        I agree because he just telling people that you need to not start a fire when there is a high risk of a forest fire.

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