‘Smokey’ Celebrates 70th Birthday with Memories of WWII, Bambi and ‘Hot-Foot Teddy’

Zoey DiMauro
By Zoey DiMauro | August 11, 2014 | 2:34 PM EDT

Smokey Bear, of “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” fame, turned 70 years old over the weekend, making him the oldest public service campaign ad in U.S. history, says the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Smokey is going strong at 70 years old,” said USDA’s Butch Blazer at a birthday party hosted by the Forest Service. “His message has helped reduce the number of acres burned annually from about 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6 to 7 million acres today. It’s been extremely successful.”

Smokey Dances the Conga at USDA

Smokey’s birthday celebration at the USDA was attended by many Smokey fans, such as foresters and a local Girl Scout troop. Festivities included a birthday cake and ice cream, a Smokey photo-op and free Smokey bookmarks, bandanas and wristbands.

The Smokey ad campaign was formed during World War II, when Japanese submarine attacks near southern California sparked the fear of uncontrollable forest fires.

At first, the Wartime Advertising Council, now known as the Ad Council, used the Bambi of Walt Disney fame to promote fire safety. However, when the image had to be returned to Disney, the council settled on a bear to be the face of the campaign and Smokey was born.


My Photo-Op with Smokey

In 1950, firefighters in New Mexico found an injured bear cub caught in the middle of a large forest fire. After receiving national press attention, the cub was turned over to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and became the living symbol of Smokey. After his death, Smokey’s remains were returned to New Mexico, where fans can still visit the gravesite and buy a Smokey tee shirt.

The latest Smokey ad campaign is a series of videos that show people engaging in fire safety, followed by Smokey appearing to give them a #SmokeyBearHug. The bear’s tips include drowning a campfire twice and then feeling to make sure the ashes are cool, and choosing a bonfire site without dry brush nearby.


And there’s more!


  • Before the rescued bear cub was dubbed “Smokey,” his nickname was Hot-Foot Teddy, in honor of his burned paws.
  • Only two individuals have their own zip code - the president and Smokey. When sending him your letter, just address it to Washington, D.C. 20250.
  • In 1952, Congress passed a law saying that no one can reproduce the Smokey image without permission from the government. In addition, the royalties of Smokey Bear merchandise will go towards education for wildfire prevention.
Happy Birthday, Smokey!