Smokey Bear the icon was born in the mind of Rudy Wendelin
, who was an artist for the U.S. Forest Service. In 1944 the Forest Service authorized his poster of Smokey Bear as the symbol for fire prevention.
The real life Smokey Bear was discovered in 1950 in the Capitan mountains in New Mexico. Firefighters were battling a powerful human caused wildfire when they came upon a bear cub which had climbed a tree to escape the flames. When firefighters finally were able to rescue the bear cub, he had been badly burned. The firefighters nursed him back to health, named him Smokey Bear, and the living symbol of Smokey Bear was born.
Smokey Bear was eventually flown to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where his legend and popularity grew around the world. Smokey Bear became an international superstar and the popularity of the Forest Service's ad campaign grew and grew. Smokey Bear became so popular that congress passed a law governing the commercialization of the name and image of Smokey Bear. Smokey Bear also received his own zip code because of the huge amounts of fan mail he received from fans across the globe.
Smokey Bear is the only individual animal to be honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a stamp. In 1984 the USPS released a stamp created by the original artist Rudy Wendelin, depicting Smokey Bear clinging to a burnt tree with the Smokey Bear emblem in the background.
The Smokey Bear campaign is the longest running public ad campaign in U.S. History. Smokey's forest fire prevention message remained unchanged for 50 years until the Ad Council updated his message to address the growing number of forest fires around the U.S.