Since 1944, Smokey Bear has been the U.S. Forest Service’s mascot for forest-fire prevention. Since then, the character has spawned a wide variety of collectibles, including posters, stuffed animals, dolls, hats, coin banks, and cigarette snuffers.
A number of companies turned Smokey into a toy teddy bear in the 1950s. Ideal made Smokey dolls with Bakelite faces and paws, while Dakin and Knickerbocker made everything from plastic bears to plush ones. All this attention landed Smokey on the cover of “Newsweek” magazine in 1952 and “Boy’s Life” in 1954.
In the 1960s, King Seeley made plastic lunch boxes featuring Smokey and a collection of his woodland friends (an owl, deer, raccoon, squirrel, plus two cubs) standing by his side. The lunch box came with a Thermos that depicted Smokey from the shoulders up wearing his trademark ranger hat...
Ceramics manufacturers turned Smokey into everything from cookie jars to salt-and-pepper shakers. Roman Ceramics and American Bisque made handsome bear-shaped cookie jars, while the Norcrest line of Smokey pottery also included Smokey candy jars and banks. And Milton-Bradley made Smokey images into jigsaw puzzles (the 1950s) and board games, (1968).
Smokey also had a presence in the world of comic books. Beginning in 1955, Dell published “Smokey the Bear,” which sold for 10 cents and featured new issues intermittently throughout the decade. In 1959, Western Publishing printed “The True Story of Smokey the Bear” as a part of the Nationwide Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign. This comic would be reprinted throughout the 1960s in slightly different versions, the last of which was published by Gold Key in 1969. A year later, in 1970, Gold Key issued the first of 13 more cartoony “Smokey the Bear” comics in a series that ran until 1973.
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I started collecting firefighting memorabilia in the 1960s around the time I became a volunteer fireman here in Orange County. My … [more]