Smokey Bear Created to Join the War Effort 

U.S. #2096

On August 9, 1944, the U.S. Forest Service created Smokey Bear to encourage people to prevent forest fires.

Though forest fires had long been an issue, America’s involvement in World War II made fighting these fires more difficult. Most able-bodied men were fighting overseas, so there weren’t enough young men to fight fires. In 1942 the Forest Service used Disney characters from the film Bambi on colorful posters to raise awareness on how to prevent forest fires. But those characters could only be used for a year, so the forest service needed their own mascot.

In 1944 they created Smokey Bear, named after New York City firefighter “Smokey” Joe Martin. The first poster was designed by Albert Staehle and pictured Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a campfire with the message “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” Smokey quickly became a household name, with toy companies producing teddy bears and a variety of posters hanging across the country.

U.S. #1122 – First Day Cover with Smokey the Bear cancel and cachet.
U.S. #1122 – First Day Cover with Smokey Bear cancel and cachet.

Months later, the Japanese began using forest fires to attack the U.S. Between November 1944 and April 1945 they launched more than 9,000 fire balloons into the jet stream, About 10% of those reached the U.S., with one of them claiming six lives. Smokey’s warnings likely helped save many other forest fires from occurring.

Smokey became a beloved symbol in 1950 when a black bear cub was discovered clinging to the top of a tree surrounded by a forest fire in New Mexico. That bear (pictured on U.S. #2096 above) was named Smokey and spent the rest of his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

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  1. It’s Smokey Bear. there’s no the in his name. Check withnthe Forestry Service. It’s often said that way but it’s incorrect.

  2. I got a Smokey Bear, bear, for Christmas one year, when I was still a little kid back in the 50’s. It was great to sleep with and carry around. Wore him out. 🙂 Thanks for all the information. Good memories. Thanks Don and team.

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