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 (52)
  • jasmina-bur
    11/09/2016 - 12:46 p.m.

    Smokey the bear helped prevent forest fires by informing people about the danger of forest fires by carelessness. he tells people to watch out for campfires, lanterns etc. while camping. i went camping and knocked over my lantern but it went out but it could have been worse. if i would have known about smokey the bear this would have been a little bit more careful.

  • emilyc1-ric
    11/14/2016 - 06:03 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires because Ray Bell rescued smokey by fighting a fire. In the text it says " The cub had been rescued by a game warden, Ray Bell,fighting a fire in New Mexico's Captain Mountains". This shows how Ray Bell saved the cub.This is why people say that he helped prevent a forest fire.The maker of smokey wrote what Smokey means and now people know what he means and people will not be part of causing a forest fire.

  • joed-ric
    11/14/2016 - 06:56 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires because he advertises a quote in a ''cute'' way that will get people's attention. Smokey's slogan says ''Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!'' which is presented in a way that will get others attention. Since Smokey was found as a cub, Smokey can get people's attention because people can't resist taking a peek at a baby animal. In the text it says ''She met Smokey when he was a cub, living at a the National zoo in Washington.'' This reveals that the bear cub, Smokey, attracted visitors that walked by.

  • briannap1-ric
    11/15/2016 - 11:06 a.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires because he is trying to encourage people to take care of the forest. This is so these things won't happen as often. An example of this is his quote, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!" This is encouraging people to take better care of the forest so that it will not be harmed in any way. When people see the sins, they may be more compelled to actually follow the rules of the parks and reservations.

  • emmam1-ric
    11/15/2016 - 02:12 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires by urging kids not to play with anything that can cause that.Also like his poster says " Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires." So that is why Smokey the bear helps with forest fires.

    • avad2-mcd
      12/12/2016 - 10:21 p.m.

      How does smokey urge kids not to play with any thing to cause a forest fire? Where does the article say that?

  • gabrielleb-ric
    11/15/2016 - 02:26 p.m.

    they make a biography on smokey called "Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left His Pawprints on History" - the "real". and the author is named Karen Signell. in the book it has the steps for a safe forest fire and he has ads so people can see his steps.
    1. always be careful with fire
    2. never play with matches or lighters
    3. always watch your campfire.
    4. always make sure your campfire is out before leaving it.

  • humbertoc-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:27 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires by encouraging kids to be careful around fires so they don't make a bad mistake and start one. As his poster says, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires." So if people are careful and supervised, there will not be anymore forest fires. This is how smokey helps prevent wild fires.

  • oscarg-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:30 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires by how he has that slogan.This would also help explain this with the children and parents. This would also speak a children's language by how a bear in cartoon is telling kids to stop wild fires.This would also help an adult with the memorizations for adults and kids.

  • gavinp1-ric
    11/15/2016 - 03:34 p.m.

    Smokey helps prevent forest fires because Smokey has a poster that says "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!" for people to read and use it with their education on forest fires. Smokey also seriously encourages adults and children to not play with fire or leave a fire unattended in the woods let alone start a fire in a wooded area. Smokey's quote also can teach people to take care of forests and not harm them because of the message he put out. That is how Smokey prevents forest fires.

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