First and Last – Smokey the Bear

Smokey Bear, the anthropomorphic symbol of the United States Forest Service, was created during World War Two. Not long after that conflict ended Smokey was appearing in one column panel cartoons as public service announcements illustrated by Harry Rossoll.

These advisories would run at least into the 1970s. For a few years during that run a Smokey the Bear comic strip was created and syndicated. It first appeared on Sunday, June 16, 1957 (below).

Allan Holtz describes the strip:

Since the character of Smokey the Bear doesn’t really come with any iron-clad plot background, the syndicate was basically free to come up with a plot from scratch. This they chose not to do. What they did was copy Mark Trail whole cloth. They made Smokey a park ranger (okay, that’s a given) and had the daily strip tell light adventure stories involving forestry, ecology and wildlife. Sundays were reserved for educational one-shot subjects.

The daily strip would start on June 17, 1957 and, as Allan said, was a continuity strip. Sundays and dailies are credited to “Wes Wood” which was pseudonym for writer Paul Newman and Mo Gollub, who already had experience with the bear doing Smokey comic books. Below is the first week of dailies.

And to set your mind at ease – yes, they did eventually get around to saving that trapped deer:

The strip ran for almost three years ending on March 26, 1960:

The last Sunday page was March 20 of 1960 (sorry for the murky view).

With posters, books, comics, among other appearances over the course of decades Smokey had a number of artists portraying him, naturally evolving from his first appearance.
The Forest Service has a detailed history of the illustrators who made Smokey the bear he is.

Smokey Bear/Smokey the Bear ™ U. S. Forest Service


This photo-essay was brought to you because of the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. That 5,593 page bill of necessary funding and nonessential pork that the U. S. Congress passed and Trump signed had a couple pages thrown into the middle of it.

The Forest Service has protected the use of its icon as jealously as Disney has its characters. But…

In general a “work of the U.S. Government” can’t be copyrighted, though the government can hold copyrights that are transferred to it. 17 U.S.C. § 105. But the government can hold trademarks, and in fact the U.S. Forest Service has owned the trademark “Smokey Bear” since 1952. It’s not clear to me why that wouldn’t be sufficient.

But misusing Smokey was written into criminal law. Now that has been corrected.

The “Clean Up the Code Act of 2019” became—let’s see here—Title X of Division O of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021…

It decriminalizes not just the unauthorized use of Smokey Bear, but also of “Woodsy Owl,” the emblem of the 4-H clubs, and the Interior Department’s “Golden Eagle Insignia,” as well as—and this is true—the coat of arms of the Swiss Confederation.

Among other acts that have been decriminalized.

[Y]ou will still need a license to use Smokey Bear, or Woodsy Owl, and maybe also the coat of arms of the Swiss Federation, it’s just that you will no longer face federal criminal charges for doing this without authorization.

Further reading.