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Filson x Smokey Bear Collection: Celebrating an Icon of Forest Ecology

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Smokey Bear’s message has remained unchanged since the 1940s. A messages to the American public: That you, I, and everyone share a responsibility to PREVENT FOREST FIRES.

About Filson

Established in Seattle in 1897 to outfit prospectors headed for the Yukon, the company’s 123-year legacy is built upon its reputation for honesty, quality and durability. Filson’s long-lasting gear is the choice of explorers, adventurers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, engineers and anyone with a passion for the outdoors. Over a century after its founding, the Filson headquarters remain in Seattle, Washington.

The Real Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear appears for the first time on a Fire Prevention poster in 1944. Photo courtesy of Filson.

The Cooperative Forest Fire Campaign was established in 1942. As a partnership among the War Advertising Council, the federal Office of War Information and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, it produced and distributed several posters between 1942 and 1944, intended to inform the public of the danger and preventability of forest fires. One of the drivers of the campaign was patriotism: during World War II, forests were part of the war effort, and destruction of trees curtailed wood supplies, obscured aerial flights of military aircraft, and pulled troops away from training to fight fires. Most outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with the Smokey Bear logo and partnering message: we have a responsibility to our land to prevent wildfires. Filson has long since catered to the rugged outdoorsmen and women who work on and with the land across the United States.

A game warden and a forest ranger inspect the damage done by a man-caused fire which burned more than 17,000 acres of New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. A black bear cub, badly burned, was found clinging to a smoldering tree after this fire. The bear cub was cared for and christened Smokey, and he became a national symbol for forest fire prevention. Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 029671.

One of the drivers of the campaign was patriotism: during World War II, forests were part of the war effort, and destruction of trees curtailed wood supplies, obscured aerial flights of military aircraft, and pulled troops away from training to fight fires. As part of the forest fire prevention campaign, characters from the Walt Disney movie Bambi were granted limited use in posters during this time. These proved to so popular with the public that the USFS decided it needed a new icon that appealed to children, free of copyright restrictions. Enter “Smokey Bear”, the unmistakable animal character created by the U.S. Forest Service.

Smokey’s message varied, but was always directed at the American public: that you, I and everyone shared a responsibility to prevent wildfires. In 1947, the revised and lasting slogan “Remember—Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” became the bear’s signature line. The ensuing Wildfire Prevention Campaign lasted 70 years, with hundreds of posters and other advertisements.

The live American black bear cub that survived a fire in Lincoln National Forest’s Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Photo: COURTESY OF NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH

Six years after Smokey’s first appearance in print, the character found a new representative through a live American black bear cub that survived a fire in Lincoln National Forest’s Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. The bear cub was badly burned on its legs, but it survived after climbing a tree to escape the flames. The fire crew rescued the injured bear, and a rancher among them took the animal home. Later, he turned “Smokey” over to a ranger with the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game and the bear was then flown to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Forest Service adopted him as their living mascot of the same name.

The Smokey Bear Limited Edition Range Hat

Custom-made by Stetson with Smokey’s image printed on the crown’s lining, this limited-edition classic honors the U.S. Forest Service’s constant vigil over our wildlands. Photo courtesy of Filson.

With its distinctive high crown pinched on all four sides, no other hat has a more fascinating legacy. Also known as a campaign hat, it’s been uniform attire for rangers, constables, law enforcement officers and military drill instructors for well over a century. Custom-made by Stetson with Smokey’s image printed on the crown’s lining, this limited edition classic honors the U.S. Forest Service’s constant vigil over our wildlands. The structured rabbit fur turns away rain, snow and sun for breathable year-round shelter. Filson-exclusive and built in extremely limited quantities.

The Filson 2021 Smokey Bear Collection

As part of Filson’s commitment to their customers and industry, they’ve partnered with Smokey Bear on a new product line to generate awareness for Smokey Bear’s fire-stopping efforts. Some of these products include variations of the classic Filson Cruisers, the Smokey Bear Limited Edition Ranger Hat, t-shirts, towels, and an enamelware camp set. Here are some of my favorites from the collection:

Filson Mackinaw Wool Cruiser  – $495

The Cruiser was instrumental in Filson products being adopted by the U.S. Forest service as early as the 1920s, and by the 1940’s, Filson was producing several variations of the Cruiser with custom designs and fabrications for the stewards of our public lands as official uniform attire.

Smokey Bear Pioneer Graphic T-Shirt – $55

Smokey Bear, icon of the Forest Service since 1944. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Full-Zip Hoodie – $98

A beefy cotton Smokey Bear Hoodie. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Pioneer Graphic T-Shirt

A new, limited-edition release, the Smokey Bear Short Sleeve T-shirt sports a bold image of our favorite bear. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Low-Profile Cap – $55

Streamlined cap honoring Smokey’s constant vigilance. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Cotton Blanket – $185

A cotton blanket that honors Smokey’s service. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Enamelware Camp Set – $250

Share a meal with our favorite bear. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Glass Set – $98

Enjoy a pint with Smokey. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Smokey Bear Tote Bag – $225

A limited-edition release of our Rugged Twill tote. Photo courtesy of Filson.

All of the products in the Filson 2021 Smokey Bear Collection can be found on Filson’s site here.

Final Thoughts

Smokey Bear frolics in a pool at the National Zoological Park. Photo provided by the Smithsonian Institution.

Some of my earliest memories include riding shotgun in my dad’s 1962 Chevy Impala while crisscrossing the U.S.  When I was around 6 years old (circa 1970), my parents took our family on a summer trip to Washington DC.  We visited all the sights, the Capitol and all the monuments.  All I could think of was that I was looking forward to visiting the National Zoo.  I wanted to see an icon – the real Smokey Bear. Needless to say, somewhere in my parents house lies a photo of me standing in front of Smokey with a huge smile.  I was thrilled!

The real “Smokey Bear” remained at the National Zoo until his death on November 9, 1976. That same year saw the formation of a new “hotshots” Type 1 firefighting crew for the U.S. Forest Service, based out of Ruidoso, New Mexico. The group – the Smokey Bear Hotshots – fight forest fires and provide support during other natural disasters across the United States.

Own a Piece of History With the Filson Smokey Bear Collection. Photo courtesy of Filson.

Although most of us have no intention of setting in motion the forces which could burn hundreds of homes, millions of acres of forest and affect thousands of lives, each year we learn of devastating wildfires caused by careless behavior. Through their partnership with the USFS and Smokey Bear, the folks at Filson (and Skyblue Overland) want to remind everyone this fire season, “Be Responsible. Prevent Wildfires.”


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