In the middle of a city park in International Falls, Minnesota, stands a giant statue of Smokey Bear. The statue was built in 1954, a decade after the National Forest Service first introduced the fire-fighting American black bear character.
According to the Forest Service, Smokey came about during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were rising fears about foreign attacks on American soil. And explosives could lead to wildfires. Protecting American forests became a matter of national concern. The first poster featuring Smokey Bear was created in 1944. It showed a bear pouring water on a campfire with the message “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” Three years later, the campaign debuted Smokey’s best-known catchphrase: “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.”
The statue in International Falls was proposed by a Minnesota Forest Ranger. With permission from the Forest Service, the town was able to build the 26-foot-tall fiberglass statue of Smokey, flanked by two bear cubs. For many years, locals dressed up the statue for the seasons: a knit scarf and mittens in the winter, fishing gear for the summer, and an orange vest for the fall. But these days he only appears in his official uniform. In October 2021 the International Falls city council voted “to prohibit dressing the iconic figure in any garb other than his traditional blue jeans, belt, buckle and “campaign” hat, with his shovel in hand,” as reported by MPR News.
It was a tough blow for this particular Smokey Bear—earlier that year, it had been unseated from its position as the largest Smokey Bear in the world by a 30-foot statue in South Dakota.