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 (321)
  • 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.

    • logand-mcd
      12/11/2016 - 12:53 p.m.

      I agree that smokey is letting everybody know when it is a high or low chance of a forest fire happening but I do not think that if there is a high or low chance of a forest fire happening doesn't mean if it is a good day to go camping or not, just be aware if there is a high chance

    • coleh-mcd
      12/11/2016 - 09:08 p.m.

      I agree with everything you said but even if it's a high or low chance of a fire shouldn't stop you from camping.

    • zoem-mcd
      12/11/2016 - 11:29 p.m.

      I completely agree with you! I am glad that you know that smokey doesn't put out fires however instead he tells people if there is a high chance of one!

    • jackc-mcd
      12/13/2016 - 06:33 p.m.

      I agree, and I would like to add that Smokey also appeals to a younger audience as he is a bear dressed as a human, and having a personified mascot is always nice.

    • alexc1-mcd
      12/13/2016 - 08:04 p.m.

      I would agree with you, but in addition, Smokey the Bear is much more than an advertisement, he is also inspiration.

    • laurend-mcd
      12/14/2016 - 09:42 p.m.

      U are so right I agree with you

    • sofiam-mcd
      12/14/2016 - 10:35 p.m.

      I agree with you because Smokey is a bear that might grab little kids attention. But then they will follow what the poster says because it has a playful animal on it.

    • sofiam-mcd
      12/14/2016 - 10:39 p.m.

      I think this is a really important article because it teaches kids Smokey story and can have them prevent forest fires. Smokey helps prevent fires by grabbing kids attention and they can tell there parents and help prevent.

    • paigen-mcd
      12/14/2016 - 11:18 p.m.

      I agree with you because Smokey is a figure that almost everyone knows of, and when people see a Smokey sign, they know to read it.

  • 23acemmi
    11/11/2016 - 09:22 a.m.

    Smokey helps prevent fires by putting them out.

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