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U.S. Forest Service Smokey Bear Collection

Identifier: MS0159

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The United States Forest Service Smokey Bear Collection spans the years 1902 to 2019, with the bulk of materials dating from 1944 to the 1990s. The collection preserves the history of the public service advertising activities of the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program, which began in 1942. The collection also includes fire prevention promotional materials that pre-date the CFFP.

Materials in the Smokey Bear Collection document how public service advertising and marketing methods were used by the CFFP campaign to promote wildfire prevention. The collection also traces Smokey Bear's development as the campaign's enduring symbol and as a popular cultural figure. Material formats include posters, drawings, paintings, cartoons, pre-publication artwork, mechanicals, proofs, and other graphic materials. There are also photographs, motion picture films and video recordings, sound recordings, media kits, document files, and publications. The collection also includes many memorabilia items and licensed commercial products.


  • Creation: 1902-2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1944-1990

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research. Portions of the collection remain unprocessed, and researchers may need extra time and assistance from staff to access these.

Conditions Governing Use

Smokey Bear's image is protected by U.S. federal law (16 U.S. Code § 580p and 36 CFR, Part 271). The use of Smokey Bear images requires the approval of the U.S. Forest Service and must be associated with a message of fire prevention.

Organizational History

The United States Forest Service, in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the Wartime Advertising Council (later called the Advertising Council or Ad Council), organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) campaign in 1942. The campaign's aim was to educate Americans about the threat of human-caused wildfires to the country's timber and recreational resources.

The CFFP launched a poster campaign during World War II to promote public awareness and participation in wildfire prevention. The campaign's earliest posters employed patriotic war-related themes to deliver its fire prevention message. In 1943, the Walt Disney Company permitted the CFFP to use forest animal characters from its popular movie Bambi on a poster. The poster proved so successful that the CFFP partners decided to create their own animal mascot to continue the fire prevention campaign. Smokey Bear debuted in the role on August 9, 1944.

Smokey Bear was reportedly named after Joseph B. "Smokey Joe" Martin, who was assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department from 1919 to 1930. Artist Albert Staehle first painted the character of Smokey Bear in 1944. Numerous artists helped develop the character, most notably Rudolph "Rudy" Wendelin, who drew and painted Smokey Bear for the U.S. Forest Service from 1949 until his retirement in 1973. The Advertising Council coined Smokey's famous slogan, "Remember, only you can prevent forest fires!" in 1947.

In 1950, firefighters battling a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico rescued an injured American black bear cub they found clinging to a tree branch. The cub recovered from his burns and was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service. He was named Smokey and transferred to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he became the living representative of Smokey Bear and the wildfire prevention campaign. Smokey remained at the zoo until his death in 1976. Goldie, a female bear, was introduced as a potential mate for Smokey in 1962, but the pair never produced offspring. Another fire survivor, a black bear cub named Little Smokey, joined the older bears at the zoo in 1975. He later replaced the original Smokey and lived at the zoo until his death in 1990.

The CFFP campaign is one of the longest-running public service advertising campaigns in the United States, and its symbol, Smokey Bear, is recognized by people around the world.

Total Size of Collection

120 Linear Feet (57 boxes and 13 map case drawers)

Language of Materials


Content Description

The U.S. Forest Service Smokey Bear Collection consists of various materials related to the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) campaign and the promotion of the campaign's symbol, Smokey Bear. Collection materials include posters, photographs, audiovisuals, document files, publications, cartoons, original artwork, and a wide variety of promotional products, artifacts, and ephemera, some of which are from countries outside the United States.


Lawter, William Clifford. Smokey Bear 20252: A Biography. Alexandria, Virginia: Lindsay Smith Publishers, 1994.

Morrison, Ellen Earnhardt. Guardian of the Forest: A History of the Smokey Bear Program. Alexandria, Virginia: Morielle Press, 1989.

United States, Agricultural History Branch. Century of Service: The First 100 Years of the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC: Centennial Committee, USDA, 1963.

United States Department of Agriculture. "Remember—Only You…" 1944 to 1984. Forty Years of Preventing Forest Fires. Smokey’s 40th Birthday. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1984.

United States Department of Agriculture. Smokey Bear—The First 50 Years. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, October 1993.

United States Department of Agriculture. Smokey’s Playbook for Developing Fire Prevention Promotions. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, undated.


agricultural art and memorabilia, audiovisuals, posters, photographs

In Progress
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the National Agricultural Library Special Collections Repository

National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Avenue
Room 309
Beltsville Maryland 20705 USA