Smokey Bear, the icon featured in the longest running public service campaign in U.S. history, turns 70 years old this Saturday, August 9, 2014.
Created in 1944 by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council– Smokey Bear, along with his trademark, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” — has helped reduce the number of acres burned annually by wildfires from 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6.7 million annually today.
To commemorate Smokey Bear’s seven decades of impact, the U.S. Forest Service will be hosting a birthday party in Washington, D.C. at the USDA Whitten Patio from 1pm- 3pm ET today, August 8.
USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Ad Council President and CEO Peggy Conlon, New Jersey State Forester, Lynn Fleming and Smokey Bear himself will be in attendance for the festivities.
Smokey Bear was first created during World War II out of fear that enemy shelling would cause forest fires out west while most firefighters were busy overseas.
By 1952, Smokey’s popularity had grown so large that he was taken out of public domain, protected under U.S. federal law and was given his own zip code as a place to receive and collect fan mail. That zip code, 20252, re-launched this summer in celebration of his 70 years.
Actor Sam Elliott, known for movie roles in Roadhouse, The Big Lebowski, and Tombstone, has served as the voice of Smokey Bear since 2008 and coincidentally shares the same birthday, turning 70 years old as well on August 9th.
“I’m proud to help celebrate Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday and the extraordinary impact his wildfire prevention campaign has had on our country,” said Elliott. “Living in Southern California, I have seen firsthand the devastation that wildfires can have on communities, and it reminds all of us about the importance of Smokey’s message of personal responsibility.”
Since launch of the campaign, the Wildfire Prevention public service advertising (PSAs) have run exclusively in time and space donated by the media. In the last seven decades, that equates to more than $2 billion worth of media support, with research showing that he is recognized by 96 percent of U.S. adults.