The Story Behind the Star of the Longest-Running Public Service Campaign in American History

The life and times of Smokey the Bear—and the cause he made famous

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On Nov. 9, 1976, a local story from Washington, D.C., managed to land in newspapers across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Smokey the Bear, age 26, had died at the National Zoo. He’d gone, the obituary read, to “that great honey tree in the sky.”

That was 43 years ago, but it was not the end of Smokey. The black bear who died at the zoo was a real-life casting of a character who’d existed even longer.



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This story first appeared in the May 13, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.