Due to weekend storm activity, some Panda Palooza activities have been postponed. See the full schedule here.

Share this page:

5 Surprising Facts to Celebrate Smokey Bear’s 75th Birthday

Smokey Bear has been preventing wildfires for 75 years. In celebration, we’ve collaborated with the Forest Service to bring Zoo visitors a new exhibit highlighting the story of this famous bear. Don’t miss it during your next trip to the Zoo. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite Smokey facts.

A small bear cub sitting on a shag rug looks up at a poster of Smokey Bear with the text "Remember - Only you can prevent forest fires!"

1. It’s Smokey Bear not Smokey the Bear.

The name of this beloved bear is definitively Smokey Bear. In 1952, songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song about Smokey, adding “the” to retain the song’s rhythm. The tune became so popular that many fans began calling the icon Smokey the Bear, but to this day his real name remains Smokey Bear.

You can listen to the “Smokey the Bear” song in this Public Service Announcement, which was produced by the Ad Council in 1952.

A veterinarian attends to a bear cub, nicknamed Smokey, that was injured in a wildfire. The cub has a bandage around one of its front paws

2. Smokey lived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

In 1950, a badly burned bear cub was found in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest after a forest fire. The orphaned cub was nicknamed Smokey and taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

After recovering from his injuries, he was flown to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where he lived as an ambassador for wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation for 26 years.

3. Smokey Bear received so much mail that he now has his own zip code.

Millions of people visited Smokey at the Zoo. They also sent him thousands of letters (and the occasional honey). Smokey received so much mail that by 1965 the Postal Service gave him his own zip code: 20252.

A series of Smokey Bear postage stamps with the text "Join Smokey's Campaign ... Prevent Forest Fires!" and "Carelessness Kills Tomorrow's Trees Too! Prevent Forest Fires" by the U.S. and State Forest Services

4. Before Smokey became the face of fire prevention, Bambi led the charge.

The U.S. began its national wildfire prevention campaign during World War II. An early poster for the campaign featured Walt Disney’s Bambi, along with pals Thumper and Flower.

Smokey made his first public appearance on a 1944 poster, where he could be seen dousing a campfire with a bucket of water. His famous slogan, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” debuted a few years later.

Three vintage posters depicting Smokey Bear

5. Smokey Bear has his own Twitter account.

That’s right. You can still write Smokey a letter at Smokey Bear, Washington, D.C. 20252. But if you want to skip the snail mail, you can simply tweet him @smokey_bear.

Stop by the Zoo’s new Smokey Bear exhibit for a look back at 75 years of Smokey Bear through stories, vintage posters and historic photographs.