Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

It’s a safe bet that Smokey the Bear will not be trading in his Ranger hat for a red MAGA cap anytime soon.

It seems only Donald Trump Can Prevent Forest Fires With a Rake.

Vintage Smokey Bear Poster 1953

For more than 70 years that iconic phrase “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” has grabbed the hearts and minds  of generations of children. Whether chatting it up with celebrities on radio commercials or lecturing little cub bears on TV,  Smokey the Bear’s deep resonant voice calling attention to wildfire prevention is burned deep into our collective consciousness.

Vintage Smokey Bear Poster

Other than Yogi, Smokey is everyone’s favorite talking bear.  But unlike Yogi who often overestimates his own cleverness, Smokey really is “smarter than the av-er-age bear.”

Especially when it comes to preventing forest fires. He’s certainly smarter than our “average” president ( who like Yogi overestimates his own cleverness ) who really believes rakes can prevent wildfires.

Apparently Trump is not fan of Smokey. A 2015 tweet is less than kind.

Trump tweet 2015 against Smokey BearIs Trump telling Smokey to stand aside?

Not so fast Trumpy.

Vintage Smokey Bear poster

Dressed in an official rangers hat, belted blue jeans and carrying a shovel ( not a  rake) the talking bear environmental activist is not only instantly recognizable he is a piece of beloved  Americana. Smokey the Bear is in fact the longest running public service ad campaign ever and long after Trump is gone, Smokey will still be here inspiring us to prevent forest fires.

A true patriot, this red-blooded All-American bear has been around since 1944.

It was in fact WWII that sparked the idea for Smokey Bear.

Vintage WWII Fire Prevention Poster 1943

The inspiration for Smokey Bear came into being in 1942 after a Japanese submarine fired shells near the coast of Santa Barbara, California that exploded on an oil field near a National Forest. With the war coming so close to our homeland, Americans panicked, fearful that incendiary shells exploding in the forests of the Pacific coast could ignite raging wildfires.

Now that so many firefighters were off at war, the government realized it was ill equipped to fight a major forest fire caused by arson, an enemy attack or started accidently. Protection of forests became a matter of national importance. People were urged to be careful to prevent fires.

War Advertising Council

Vintage WWII Fire Prevention Poster 1943 Hitler and Tojo

To raise awareness and rally the public to the cause, the Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention and enlisted the help of the  War Advertising Council  ( later the Ad Council) to convince folks it would help win the war.

With the  recent success of their “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaign, the  Council began a new campaign to put Americans on watch for forest fires. Launching  a fire prevention poster campaign they used  slogns like “Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon.” Like many ad campaigns at the time the  posters  were very anti Axis and utilized overt racial sterotypes.

They soon dumped Tojo moving on to a cuter mascot- Bambi


Vintage Fire Prevention Poster 1944 Walt Disney Bambi

In 1942 Walt Disney had a box office smash with their animated movie Bambi that celebrated forests and their sweet animal inhabitants. With a stroke of luck, Disney lent the U.S. Forest Service the use of their beloved character Bambi in 1944. The poster of the sweet fawn was a huge hit proving the success of using an animal as a fire prevention symbol.

But Disney only loaned characters for a year. The Forest Service decided it needed a permanent animal mascot.

What could be more fitting than a cute bear?

Smokey is Born

Early Vintage Smokey Bear Poster

Enter friendly Smokey Bear, born in August 1944. Created by artist Albert Stachle Smokey was dressed in his familiar ranger hat and dungarees advising bear cubs and children alike. His first poster declared “Smoky says –care will prevent 9 out of ten forest fires.”

First Smokey the Bear Poster 1944

First Smokey Bear Poster 1944

Smokey would last long after his war time duties.


Vintage Smokey Bear Poster 1949

His famous catchphrase  “Remember …Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” first appeared in 1947 and it remained that until 2001 when they changed forest fires for wildfires.

Within a few years Smokey went from posters to broadcasts, tee shirts to toys.


Vintage Comic Smokey Bear

He even got his own song in 1952  Smokey the Bear which added a “the”  between Smokey and Bear to keep the songs rhythm. The addition stuck and from then on that was how he was popularly known.

Vintage Smokey the Bear Figurines

It wasn’t long before they began commercializing Smokey’s image. Vintage Smokey the Bear Figurines from my collection

That  same year, Smokey went to work for Uncle Sam when an act of Congress passed  removing Smokey from the public domain and under the control of Secretary of Agriculture. Now any money made from liscensing his image to toy and media companies would used for continued  forest fire prevention education

Vintage Smokey Bear Poster 1953

A simple idea with a simple message – to help raise awareness about the simple precaustions people can take to protect American forests, grassland, and other areas from fire .

None of them involve a rake.




  1. John Anderson

    Great history on Smokey the Bear! I learned things I was previously unaware of. I had no idea Smokey had been around for so long! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Has our *President Trump ever been out in nature? This man will never drain any kind of swamp, he’ll just bring it to your front door in an oil pipe line.

    “Drain the swamp” is just empty rhetoric. Smokey the Bear is a classic icon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, the closest Trump comes to nature is driving a gas powered golf cart on 18 hole course.


  4. Uhuh. Yea, right. Smokey is a real person, alright.


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