“Only YOU can prevent wildfires!”
Many people call him Smokey THE Bear (because of a successful 1952 song of that name), but his proper name is simply Smokey Bear. Many people think he's talking about FOREST fires rather than wildfires (because that's what he said for the first 54 years of his life), but in 2001 the slogan was updated since wildfires are not always in forests.
Smokey Bear was created to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires in 1944. Six years after Smokey-the-fictional-bear was born, a black bear cub was found in a burnt forest. The cub had climbed a tree to escape the fire, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. People nursed him back to health, and someone had the bright idea of naming the bear cub Smokey. Soon the cub's rescue made national news, and Smokey-the-real-injured-bear-cub became a big celebrity.
After he healed, Smokey was flown to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he lived the rest of his life, 26 years. (The average lifespan of a black bear in the wild is ten years, although they can live from 25 to 30 years in the wild.) Smokey received millions of visitors and so much mail that he got his own zip code! (He got up to 13,000 letters per WEEK!) He ate bluefish and trout and even peanut butter sandwiches.
Smokey-the-fictional-bear lives on and celebrates his birthday each August 9th. Learn more about him and his message here.