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 (298)
  • halliet-cel
    11/10/2016 - 12:18 p.m.

    Smokey the bear helps prevent forest fires by being an advertisement that little children love as well as everyone else. He is posted up around forest with signs. He lets them know if it is a high or low chance of a fire. if so maybe its not a good day to go camping etc.

    • alyssaa-mcd
      12/03/2016 - 02:22 p.m.

      i agree, i would also like to add that he also inspires children because of his inspiring story.

      • patricka-mcd
        12/15/2016 - 04:39 p.m.

        i agree but its not a happy story its more of a sad one.

    • katyp-mcd
      12/04/2016 - 11:59 a.m.

      I agree with you and I think that that is the reason why as well

    • katyp-mcd
      12/04/2016 - 12:02 p.m.

      Smokey puts out forest fires by being a true hero for all the younger kids so the kids think that they are doing something good and that if they do it they will be like Smokey and be a hero.

    • kilaf-mcd
      12/04/2016 - 07:01 p.m.

      That is interesting also I was thinking that they put him on a lot of posters to, And i think that is because they want children to be inspired about smoky the bear and learn more about him.

    • makennag-mcd
      12/04/2016 - 10:13 p.m.

      He also brings more attention, by having the mascot a bear, to the fact that bears and other animals live in the forest, and by starting a forest fire it can effect the animals.

    • jolien-mcd
      12/05/2016 - 09:35 p.m.

      I agree I think that Smokey helps prevent forest fires. I also think that Smokey the bear is used for advertisement and it caught the peoples attention when they say the advertisement. Adding on to that people became more aware of forest fires and I think tried more to prevent them when they saw Smokey the bears advertisement.

    • kaitlynr-mcd
      12/08/2016 - 08:21 p.m.

      yes i would strongly agree with you because he is a advertisement that encourages kids to be safe.

    • noahm-mcd
      12/08/2016 - 08:35 p.m.

      I agree that is what I thought also. I think that he was kind of an encouragement for people to be extra careful with fire.

    • allisonf-mcd
      12/08/2016 - 11:01 p.m.

      I agree with you. Smokey does indeed help prevent fires, and it does help that everyone loves and respects him.

    • timmyo-mcd
      12/10/2016 - 03:06 p.m.

      I agree with you. Smokey is a great icon to help prevent forest fires. Kids love the idea of having a bear/cub to help prevent forest fires.

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