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 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 new 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 is Karen Signell. She 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. 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, 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 (63)
  • mayleeng-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:35 p.m.

    Smokey the bear helps prevent forest fires by persuading kids. For example Smokey says things that persuade little and older kids like "Only you can prevent forest fires." and a lot more stuff! Plus Smokey is a good role model to kids he's a bear wearing pants! Plus Smokey was rescued from a fire, by Ray Bell and thought it was a good idea for him to sort of be a mascot of wildfires to kids and help keep this world peaceful and safe.

  • tarenr-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:40 p.m.

    Smokey the Bear helps prevent forest fires because he is an example of what can happen during a forest fire, luckily he was okay. Also, he was a great figure to use as he was a furry animal, so the young kids potentially watching would stay watching an ad. "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." They also chose Smokey because bears are large parts of forests and many people might say a "bear" when they think of forest animals, so he would be a good figure to use in ads.

    • avad2-mcd
      12/12/2016 - 10:23 p.m.

      I agree with your reasoning and why they chose a bar over a raccoon.

  • jennab-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:41 p.m.

    smokey helps prevent forest fires because he encourages people to not have fires or anything like that in the forest because it could kill every animal in the forest. In the story it talks about how to have safe forest fires. also the fact of always watching your camp fire. Also taking care of the forest.

  • brodyl-ric
    11/15/2016 - 04:35 p.m.

    Smokey helped prevent forest fires by on his say on quote "care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires." Ray bell saved smokey from a forest fire and shows that many animals live in forests and if you take care of the forest 9 out of 10 chance the forest will catch on fire.

  • addiey-ric
    11/15/2016 - 06:26 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires because he was saved from a fire. That associates smokey with fire. They decided that since he was saved from a fire, that he should be the one encouraging people to prevent fires. That way many other cubs could be saved. And we will have more forests. Also an animal will help encourage children to stop forest fires because bear cubs are cute and cuddly.

  • harrisonb-ric
    11/15/2016 - 07:06 p.m.

    Smokey the bear helps stop and prevent fires in many ways. His main way is by advertising an important message of , don't mess around in the forest that can lead to something bad. Urging people to take care in the forest it has led him to be a very important figure national and globally. Another great thing about Smokey is aht his messages have not only appealed to adults but children too.

  • brayiag-ric
    11/15/2016 - 09:41 p.m.

    smokey the bear gives you tips on what you can do to prevent a forest fire.
    1.always put out your fire if no one is around it
    2.never play around fire
    3.never play with matches or lighter
    4.always have an adult around you when starting a fire.
    5. always be safe and careful around fire.
    these are some rules that smokey the bear gave use for when we are camping or around a fire and don't know what to do and is also things we need to remember for when around a fire.

  • madelynf-ric
    11/16/2016 - 09:11 a.m.

    He helps by having signs be put up, for example in the text it says "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!" Another way is by the cartoon. Also another way was by books,"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),"

  • alexo1-ric
    11/16/2016 - 09:33 a.m.

    Smoky help prevent forest fires because first of his sign "care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires" then since the real smokey appeared. Smokey was made a "living animal symbol" it was made more visible for people. To stop forest fires and the ads were everywhere and helped prevent forest fires.

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