Smokey turns 62 this week. And just about every American knows exactly who we're talking about.
It's "Smokey Bear."
Smokey's 62, all right, but he still looks as big and strong and friendly as he did when the U.S. Forest Service created him as their symbol during World War II, when timber was urgently needed for the war effort.
At first, Smokey Bear was a gruff old bruin, with menacing fangs, and when he told you to snuff out that campfire, or buy war bonds, you did it!
But after the war, an artist named Rudolph Wendelin removed Smokey's fangs, took the claws out of his paws, and gave him a friendly -- yet earnest -- look. After all, as Smokey reminded us over and over again on radio and television, forest fires are serious business.
We all knew Smokey Bear's watchword: "Only YOU can prevent forest fires."
Smokey's such an American institution that he once came in second to the Christmas figure Santa Claus as children's favorite character. Smokey belts, hats, and T-shirts still sell briskly.
The character really caught on, especially with kids, in 1950 when an orphan bear cub was rescued from a raging fire in New Mexico. With Forest Service blessing, he was named Smokey and shipped to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he was a huge tourist attraction.
In 1984, on his 40th birthday, Smokey the Forest Service spokesman received quite an honor. He became the first and only individual animal to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp.
As of late at the Forest Service, the stern old bear has broadened his mission. Smokey talks about wildfires of all sorts, not just those in the forest. But the old story, first sung by Eddie Arnold, still holds true:
"Smokey the Bear
"Smokey the Bear
"He can find a fire before it starts to flame
"That's why they call him Smokey.
"That was how he got his name."
And don't forget . .
"Only YOU can prevent forest fires."