Smokey Bear turns 70, gets his mailbox back


MISSOULA, Mont. - He is an ever-present icon in the American West, and August 9, 2014 is his 70th birthday. Smokey Bear remains active in the western Montana community even though he's getting up there in years.

In mid-July he participated in the parade for Alberton Railroad Day and danced on the Missoula Osprey home field on his bobblehead night.

The bear with an unusual habit of wearing a hat and jeans originated in 1944. At that time around 22 million acres of forest were burning almost every year -- larger than most eastern states. Most of those fires, as most fires are today, were caused by humans.

A partnership between the Ad Council, the Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters created Smokey Bear on August 9, 1944. His first appearance was a simple poster with Smokey pouring water over a campfire, reading, "Smokey says, Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires".

The continuing Smokey Bear campaign is the longest running public service campaign in American history.

The public profile for Smokey rose in 1950 when a bear cub was discovered hanging onto a burned out tree behind the fire lines in New Mexico's Capitan Mountains. Foresters brought the cub back to health and eventually named him Smokey.

The living symbol of the Smokey Bear campaign lived at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Perhaps that's when letters to Smokey became overwhelming. He got his own D.C. zip code -- 20252. The only other individual with his own zip code is the President of the United States.

In 1994 Smokey's zip code was decommissioned. Letters still came in. In anticipation of his 70th birthday, Smokey's zip code recently returned thanks to work by the Forest and Postal services.

While his look and catch phrase have changed over the years, the core of the message hasn't: Only you can prevent wildfires.