Monday, June 24, 2013
Smokey the Bear is Still Smokin’
QUESTION: As I was cleaning out my attic recently, I came across my old Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit. Do you know if this is collectible today?
ANSWER: Your "Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit," was popular with kids since its introduction in 1957. Today, it’s also a popular collectible. It came complete with a bookmark, letter from Smokey, membership car blotter, four poster stamps and a Junior Forest Ranger Certificate, all profusely illustrated, inside of a beautiful envelope. The Forest Service even included a brass-relief badge from time to time. .
Created by a Madison Avenue advertising campaign in 1944, Smokey the Bear quickly became a beloved national symbol. His plea, "Only you can prevent forest fires," first coined in 1947, is familiar to all.
While Walt Disney’s Bambi had been previously used as a symbol for forest fire prevention, the ad men for the Forest Service decided a bear would be better and gave the job of designing him to illustrator Albert Staehle.
The mid-20th century artist is best remembered for his Saturday Evening Post and American Weekly magazine covers featuring a black and white cocker spaniel. Staehle created the Smokey character with the ranger hat and carrying a water bucket. He did four original posters of Smokey for the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.
After Staehle created Smokey the Bear, Rudy Wendelin took on the job his artist. For 30 years, until
his retirement from the Forest Service in 1975. Wendelin endlessly drew Smokey. Later, he even designed the commemorative postage stamp released in 1984 in honor of Smokey’s 40th anniversary.
The cartoon bear was supposedly named after Smokey Joe Martin, New York City's assistant firechief in the 1920's. He began appearing on fire prevention posters and billboards and in countless television public service advertisements pleading with viewers to be fire-safe in the forests.
In 1950, a badly burned cub was rescued in the aftermath of a fire in New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest. He was chosen to be the living symbol of forest fire prevention by the national government. For the next 25 years the bear, now named Smokey after the department's famous cartoon character, was used as a living reminder to Americans of the need to be careful with matches and fire in the forests. In May of 1975 he was retired to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and there he died in November of 1976. His remains were transported back to New Mexico and today, Smokey is buried in his original forest. Another orphan cub was chosen to succeed him.
Early recognizing the growing popularity of its fire fighting bear, the United States government trademarked him in 1952. This was done to insure that he would not be used in any way detrimental to his goal. It also brought in royalties, which fluctuated between $40,000 and $200,000 or more each year—money used to supplement the fire prevention budget.
Smokey the Bear can be found in cloth, metal, plastic, and porcelain. Most popular are the stuffed bears. Ideal Toy Company manufactured the first one in 1952. Knickerbocker and Dakin soon followed. Teddy bears of Smokey, wearing jeans and a ranger hat, have been made in all sizes. Some were often talking toys, games, records, and drinking cups and mugs flooded the marketplace in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's.
The first appearance of Smokey the Bear in a comic book came in a 1950 release, entitled Forest Fire, by the American Forestry Association. Rudy Wendelin did the artwork. The Dell Publishing Company produced a series of eight comic books from October 1955 to August 1961. Then came Smokey the Bear in 1962 by K.K. Publications for a 13-year run as part of their "March of Comics" series. And from February 1970 to March 1973, Gold Key issued 13 comic books.
In 1959, the United State Forest Service had Western Printing Company create a comic book, “The True Story of Smokey the Bear,” for use as an educational giveaway to youngsters. It became a popular premium for the next 10 years.
The Forest Service also handed out other premiums since the 1950's that today are quite collectible. These include the Junior Forest Ranger' badges. The agency also gave away pinback buttons with Smokey's face and the slogan, "I'm Helping Smokey Prevent Forest Fires," as well as a free coloring book, "The Blazing Forest," also printed by Western Publishing Company, as part of its "Prevent Forest Fires" campaign.