Smokey Bear is the mascot of the U.S. Forest Service created to educate the public on the dangers of forest fires. Smokey Bear's message "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" was created in 1944 by the Ad Council.
Before World War II, forest fire prevention campaigns used colorful posters to bring attention to the problem. During the war, images of the Axis powers of World War II leaders were depicted to drive home the message that forest fires hurt the country’s war effort. Lumber was a critical natural resource needed for the armed forces.
On August 13, 1942, Disney's 5th full-length animated motion picture Bambi premiered in New York City. Soon after, Walt Disney allowed his characters to appear in fire prevention public service campaigns. However, Bambi was only loaned to the government for a year, so a new symbol was needed.
Sticking with the popular animal theme, a bear was chosen. His name was inspired by "Smoky" Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who shrugged off burns and blindness in a bold 1922 rescue.
Smokey's debut poster was released on August 9, 1944, which is considered his birthday. Overseen by the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, the first poster was illustrated by Albert Staehle. In it Smokey was depicted wearing jeans and a campaign hat, pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath reads, "Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!"