English Language Blog

Smokey the Bear an important American figure Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Culture

Image "Apprised" by  Nicholas A. Tonelli from Flickr.com.

Image “Apprised” by Nicholas A. Tonelli from Flickr.com.

“Only you can prevent forest fires.”  That is a saying most Americans know. Do you know who is famous for saying this?
It is a warning from the famous Smokey the Bear. Smokey the Bear is an American character with a very interesting story that I am going to share here today.
Most Americans know Smokey the Bear (pictured above and below) as a cartoon character, created in 1944, to teach people about the dangers of forest fires. Smokey is more than just a cartoon character though, there was also a living symbol, a real live, Smokey the Bear once.
In 1950 a young black bear (i.e. a cub) was caught in a large forest fire in the state of New Mexico. The fire burned 17,000 acres (69 km2) and this little black bear cub had climbed a tree to try and escape the flames. Unfortunately his paws (i.e. his feet) and his back legs were burned in the fire, so he was injured, but he lived. He was found by men who had come to fight the fire.  The young cub was taken in by these men because he was little, and not too dangerous, and because he needed care due to his injuries and the fact that his mother died in the fire.
Local people in New Mexico then took Smokey in and cared for him too. Soon the local and national news found out about this real live Smokey the Bear and he became a celebrity! Smokey then moved to Washington, D.C., to the National Zoo, where he lived for 26 years.
The real live Smokey the Bear lost his home and family to a forest fire, but the cartoon character Smokey the Bear worked hard to prevent that from happening to other animals. There are books, songs, stuffed animal, and many educational materials in the USA that all feature Smokey the Bear (like in the picture below).
Over the years Smokey’s slogans have changed, from “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires” to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires“, to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” but the message is always clear: people have to be careful with fire outdoors to prevent fires from ruining nature.
Image "Only you can prevent - HEY WAIT A MOMENT!" by Great Beyond on Flicker.com.

Image “Only you can prevent – HEY WAIT A MOMENT!” by Great Beyond on Flicker.com.

Is there a mascot similar to Smokey the Bear in your country? Is the mascot also a bear or is it a different animal? Leave a comment below to let me know.
One last note on Smokey the Bear, you may have noticed the spelling, ‘Smokey’ is different from the adjective ‘smoky’. This was reportedly done intentionally when the character Smokey was created, but you should be aware of this so you don’t make an unintentional spelling error.
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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.