Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s popular icon of wildfire prevention, was created during World War II to publicize the need to protect a critical natural resource—wood. To combat the incidence of human-caused forest fires, the U.S. Forest Service established the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program in 1942. The CFFP adopted Smokey as its official symbol two years later. Smokey Bear’s famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” was added in 1947 by the Wartime Advertising Council, known today as the Ad Council.
The first artist’s rendering of Smokey was created by Albert Staehle (http://www.albertstaehle.info/) in 1944. Staehle was followed by numerous other Smokey artists. Prominent among these artists was Rudolph (Rudy) Wendelin, whose paintings of Smokey spanned his career with the Forest Service from 1949 to 1973 and continued into his retirement. Wendelin softened and humanized Smokey’s features, making the character more appealing to children, to whom much of the fire prevention campaign was directed.
In 1986, the U.S. Forest Service began to transfer materials collected from the CFFP campaign to the National Agricultural Library (NAL) to be held in Special Collections as permanent documentation of the program. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) transferred additional materials from their holdings to NAL’s Special Collections in 1990. Donations from various Forest Service offices continue to grow the collection at NAL, making it a significant resource documenting the history of the Smokey Bear campaign. The U.S. Forest Service also maintains a website about Smokey at http://www.smokeybear.com.
- Lawter, William Clifford, Jr. Smokey Bear 20252: A Biography. Alexandria, Virginia: Lindsay Smith Publishers, 1994.
- Morrison, Ellen Earnhardt. Guardian of the Forest: A History of the Smokey Bear Program. Alexandria, Virginia: Morielle Press, 1989.
The Smokey Bear Collection at NAL consists of 115 linear feet of material including posters, proofs, mechanicals, original artwork, motion pictures, sound recordings, and memorabilia. To access the collection, contact:
National Agricultural Library
Special Collections, Room 309-G
10301 Baltimore Avenue
Beltsville, Maryland 20705
Phone: (301) 504-5876
The Smokey Bear exhibit was originally created in December 2012.