The First Century

THE WAR YEARS, 1942-1945

The war years intensified the need to establish national forest priorities—one of which was increasing national forest wood outputs through the Timber Production War Project. The biggest single wood use was packing crates to ship military supplies; but other important uses were for bridges, railroad ties, gunstocks, ships, docks, barracks, other buildings, and aircraft. The Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, greatly expanded its research to fulfill military needs. The Forest Service also was called upon to lead a high-priority project—producing a rubber substitute from the guayule plant—a shrub native to the Southwest. A pilot project was begun in Salinas, California, and by 1944, more than 200,000 acres of guayule were under cultivation—producing 3 million pounds of rubber substitute for use on airplanes, ships, and vehicles, especially for tires. The project was abandoned after the war when rubber from Southeast Asia again became available.

Aeneas Aircraft Warning Service Lookout, Okanogan National Forest (Washington), 1943 USDA Forest Service

Recreation was deemphasized nationwide during the war; forest fire protection became quite important, especially along the west coast. Aircraft Warning Stations (AWS), usually at selected forest lookouts, were established in 1942 to warn of impending air attacks on the west and east coasts. Almost 2,000 Forest Service employees joined the Armed Forces. In 1943, many conscientious objectors at home volunteered for smokejumper duty. Sixty were chosen for this very dangerous work. As during World War I, women were again employed as fire and aircraft lookouts, while civilian volunteers and outdoor groups were encouraged to form "Forest Service Reserves" to help with lookout and firefighting work on the national forests. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign—a joint venture between the Forest Service and State forestry officials—was organized during the war, when it became vitally important to protect the Nation's timber supply. In 1944, this program became the Smokey Bear campaign.

Lyle F. Watts—Seventh Chief, 1943-1952

Lyle F. Watts

Lyle Ford Watts was born in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, in 1890. Watts served as Chief during the turbulent years of World War II. With the obvious progress being made in the war effort, his attention turned to planning what the national forests and the Forest Service would be like after the war. He and his staff realized that the national forests needed to be opened up to development in the most scientific and orderly manner.

Watts encouraged the Forest Service to hire university forestry graduates to help develop forest road systems and intensively managed, sustained-yield forests. He oversaw the expansion of the Federal role of cooperator with the various States and private industry in the fields of forest fire protection, pest control, tree planting, woodland management and harvesting, wood-product marketing and processing, grazing, and so on.

Lyle F. Watts wrote:

Forest Service conservation involves much more than the growing of crops on forest lands to supply raw material in one form or another for an ever-growing list of uses. Forestry must be coupled with the social and economic welfare of rural communities, especially in regions primarily dependent upon forest industries. Improving forest productivity should mean a great deal to rural America in augmenting the income of farm folk, maintaining payrolls in small communities, and sustaining the tax base to support local government functions.

Shelton, Washington— Location of the Shelton Cooperative Sustained-Yield Unit USDA Forest Service

The Sustained-Yield Forest Management Act of 1944 and Sustained-Yield Units

The Sustained-Yield Forest Management Act of 1944 authorized the establishment of sustained-yield timber units. To stabilize communities, cooperative units were to combine the management of Federal timber land with private land. Federal units, the other category, reserved national forest timber for only one geographic area—usually one community and one mill. The act was first heralded as protecting mills and jobs in the communities, but soon companies and communities that were not included in the agreements thought it to be monopolistic, noncompetitive, and exclusionary. The Shelton (Washington) Cooperative Sustained-Yield Unit agreement was signed in 1946—the only cooperative unit ever established—and still in operation today. Five Federal sustained-yield units were established: Vallecitos, New Mexico (Carson National Forest); Grays Harbor, Washington (Olympic National Forest); Flagstaff, Arizona (Coconino National Forest); Lakeview, Oregon (Fremont National Forest); and Big Valley California (Modoc National Forest). Only the Lakeview unit is actively operating today.

Smokey Bear Artist Rudolph Wendelin USDA Forest Service

Smokey Bear

In 1944, Smokey Bear became the official fire prevention symbol of the Nation. The first Smokey poster was distributed the following year. On June 27, 1950, a young bear cub—the only survivor from a massive fire on the Lincoln National Forest—was moved to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he became the symbol of Smokey Bear. In May 1975, the original Smokey Bear was retired from public duties. He died quietly the following January, with Smokey II taking his place. In the summer of 1990, Smokey II died. There are no more living Smokey Bears at the National Zoo.


Adapted from
Gladys D. Daines and Elsie Cunningham
"Prevention Programs: 1944 to 1994 and Beyond"
Fire Management Notes, Volumes 53-54, Special Issue 1992-93

In 1942, a Japanese submarine shelling of an oil field near Santa Barbara, California, very close to Los Padres National Forest, reinforced forest managers' concerns about forest fires. Ongoing war efforts had drained the United States of forest firefighters and heavy equipment used to fight fires. Thus, the Forest Service wanted to encourage the general public to participate in forest fire prevention.

The first step was taken when the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign was begun. The forest supervisor of California's Angeles National Forest contracted the newly formed Wartime Advertising Council for help. The council was made up of business and advertising people who were willing to donate their time and talent for the war effort. With an additional pledge of support from the National Association of State Foresters, a nationwide forest fire prevention campaign was launched. Foote, Cone and Belding Communications, Inc., of Los Angeles, became the volunteer agency for the campaign. Between 1942 and 1944, fire prevention posters used wartime slogans, then Bambi. They decided they wanted a bear illustration on the posters for 1945.

On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was described by Richard Hammett, director of the Wartime Forest Fire Prevention Program, as having a "nose short (Panda type), color black or brown; expression appealing, knowledgeable, quizzical; perhaps wearing a campaign (or Boy Scout) hat that typifies the outdoors and the woods." Blue jeans were added later. The bear was named "Smokey" after "Smokey" Joe Martin, who was the Assistant Chief of the New York City Fire Department from 1919 to 1930.

Albert Staehle, a nationally known artist, was asked to paint the first bear, which was completed in 1944 and distributed the following year. This first Smokey poster showed him pouring water on a campfire. In 1945, Smokey made his debut in many magazine and newspaper ads and hundreds of radio stations donated valuable broadcasting time for his message.

When the war was over, the Wartime Advertising Council, renamed the Advertising Council, continued to sponsor public service campaigns, including Smokey Bear's message (and does to this day). In 1946, Rudolph "Rudy" Wendelin returned to the Forest Service after serving in the Navy—he worked closely with the Advertising Council on Smokey Bear posters. Rudy was one of the best known Smokey Bear artists and soon became nown as the "caretaker of the Smokey Bear image." After his retirement in 1973, Rudy continued to paint Smokey and act as a Smokey Bear program consultant. Harry Rossolll, another famous Forest Service artist, created four Smokey cartoons a month in the United States and Canada.

In 1950, some careless person started the terrible Capitan Gap forest fire on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. When a strong wind suddenly swept the fire toward a group of the courageous firefighters, 25 of them had to run to a rock slide, lay face down, and cover their faces with wet handkerchiefs to escape the deadly flames. The emptied their canteens over their clothes and swatted burning embers from each other's backs. Finally, the fire passed and the smoke cleared. The only living thing those firefighters saw was a badly burned bear cub clinging to a blackened tree. They took the little bear to a ranger station to tend to its burns. He was named "Smokey" after the original famous poster of Smokey Bear.

After the burns healed, the little bear was sent to live at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, where he became the living symbol of forest fire prevention, as well as the most visited attraction at the zoo. Antoher orphaned bear was found in 1961 in the Magdelena Mountains of New Mexico. "Goldie," as she was named, was sent to the zoo to become Smokey's companion.

The original Smokey Bear was retired from public duties in May 1975 and died quietly on November 5 of that same year. He was buried at the Smokey Bear State Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico (the idea for the park originated from the Capitan Women's Club and opened on May 15, years before. A bronze plaque with the following inscription has been placed on the rock:

SMOKEY BEAR. This is the final resting place for the first living Smokey Bear. In 1950 when Smokey was a tiny cub, wildfire burned his forest home in the nearby Capitan Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. Firefighters found the badly burned cub clinging to a blackened tree and saved his life. In June 1950, the cub was flown to our Nation's Capital to become the living symbolf of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation. After 25 years he was replaced by another orphaned black bear from the Lincoln National Forest.

After the original Smokey retired, Smokey II took his place. Smokey II died in the summer of 1990. The Forest Service has since decided not to replace the living symbol of Smokey at the National Zoo.

Because of the Smokey Bear Program's growing popularity, Congress passed the Smokey Bear Act in 1952 to protect the Smokey's image and the work of the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) Council. The act prohibits Smokey Bear's use and wearing the Smokey Bear costume without permission, permits licensing the use of Smokey Bear, and allows the Forest Service to keep any Smokey Bear royalties and put them into a fund to be used only for forest fire prevention.

In 1952, Ideal Toys manufactured the first Smokey Bear stuffed toy. It came with a card that children could fill out and mail to become "Junior Forest Rangers." Children readily responded and by 1955 there were 500,000 Junior Forest Rangers. Children were encourage to write to Smokey and by 1965 Smokey Bear was given his own zip code—20252!

The famous message "Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires" was created in 1947 by the Ad Council's volunteer agency and is still used today. In a recent study, 95 percent of the people surveyed could finish the sentence when given the first words, "Remember, Only YOU...." The same survey found 98 percent of those polled could identify Smokey Bear when shown his picture. On August 13, 1984, the U.S. Postal Service honored Smokey Bear's 40th birthday with a commemorative stamp, drawn by Rudy Wendelin.

The Smokey message has been oriented towards children ages 4 to 12 in the form of posters, films, videos, comic books, pins, handouts, wall and pocket calendars, bumper stickers, exhibits, ballons, and even a Smokey hot air balloon. As early as 1950, a number of State organizations began designing Smokey customes that were (and still are) used in schools, in parades, and other places where children and adults can see and hear the fire prevention message. The Smokey costume has varied over the years, eventually evolving into the familiar costume that resembles the Wendelin character. For a short time there was a Smokey Jr., costume and then—in the later years—a graying fur costume as Smokey was showing his age.

The 50th anniversary of the first Smokey poster has been characterized as a celebration of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in the history of the United States. A new series of 50th anniversary posters, pins, and other memorabilia were distributed, as well as a special 25-minute historical video production. The video was entitled "Fifty Years with Smokey Bear" and focused on the visual character and real life of Smokey. A special golden anniversary slogan competition was sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters. The winning slogan was submitted by the Ohio Division of Forestry: "REMEMBER...SMOKEY HAS FOR FIFTY YEARS."

Smokey Bear as a Cub with Judy Bell. USDA Forest Service

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Last Updated: 09-Jun-2008