The Stories Behind 6 Vintage Forest Fire Prevention Characters

You’re no doubt familiar with Smokey Bear, the anthropomorphic bear who proclaimed, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” but did you know there used to be an entire menagerie meant to help prevent major fires in the United States? From the Fire Wolf to the Guberif, each of these characters were used in campaigns to create awareness for fire safety in American woodlands during and after World War II.

1. SMOKEY BEAR

Smokey Bear is easily the most famous fire prevention mascot, and he has been featured in the longest running PSA campaign in American history. Since August 1944, Smokey has appeared on posters, in TV commercials, and on road signs prompting citizens to conserve and protect forests.

Smokey was created during World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. A number of the men who subsequently joined the American armed forces were firefighters, and their absence left the forests largely unprotected. The Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters, and War Advertising Council worked together to organize the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program, which launched a campaign to promote forest fire prevention. They realized the impact of animal messengers early on when a promotional poster featuring Bambi in 1944 garnered the public’s attention (remember Bambi and his woodland friends fleeing a large, scary wildfire near the end of the film?). But the Bambi image was on loan from Disney, so they needed to come up with something new that they could own. Smokey Bear was soon introduced by illustrator Albert Staehle as a campaign symbol aimed toward both children and adults. By 1946, Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin tweaked the bear’s original design to create the artwork we’re familiar with today.

There was also a real bear named Smokey Bear, but he was named after the cartoon, not vice versa. In 1950, a burned bear cub survived a fire in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico and was named after the popular fire prevention figure. The orphaned cub was rescued from charred tree, and his paws and hind legs were bandaged by veterinarians in Santa Fe. News outlets picked up the story of the injured baby bear, and people all over the country called to check in on the cub. Eventually he was donated to Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo, where he continued to promote fire safety until his death in 1976.

And as for the confusion between the name Smokey Bear and Smokey the Bear, songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins are to blame. After Congress took Smokey Bear out of public domain in 1952, Nelson and Rollins penned a theme song wherein they added the infamous ‘the’ to keep the rhythm.

The Smokey Bear campaign has stood the test of time. In 1964, the US Postal Service issued the fictitious bear his own zip code (20252) as he was receiving nearly a thousand letters per day. He also has a commemorative stamp and his own Smokey Bear Historical Park. (In 2008 he was even given a new motto—”Get Your Smokey On”—but the official Smokey Bear site has since reverted to the original slogan.)

2. WOODY

A surprisingly popular character, Woody was simply a talking log of wood (somewhat reminiscent of Ren & Stimpy’s Log, but with language capability). Back in 1941, faced with the threat of federal regulation and increasing criticism, the American Forest Products Industry (AFPI) decided to form a public relations program. They started running ads the following year that spoke to the benefits of forest products and protecting natural resources.

By 1944, the character Woody was created for an advertising campaign and was used to symbolize proper forest management and forest products; additionally, his image was sometimes used to drum up support for the war effort. After the war, Woody evolved primarily into an advocate of forest fire prevention and, like the Guberif (see below), became a symbol for the national Keep America Green Movement. Not only did Woody appear on promotional items and road signs, but in the 1950s, he was featured in comic books and on greeting cards. Woody also made public appearances, but he was eventually overshadowed by Smokey Bear and gradually disappeared from use.

3. THE FIRE WOLF

An antagonistic figure, the Fire Wolf also came into being at the end of World War II when patriotic concerns about forest fires began to give way to economic concerns. With the timber supply being threatened by fires, forest industry groups opted to try to educate people about fire prevention. One of the AFPI's 1945 advertising campaigns featured a character called the Fire Wolf. Debuting the year after Woody, the Fire Wolf was named "Forest Enemy No.1," and it’s easy to see why. His body was made out of flames, and he made a habit of befriending campers who refused to put out their fires and smokers who were careless with their still-lit cigarettes. Ads featuring the Fire Wolf stalking innocent woodland creatures appeared throughout the U.S. and in Canada, thanks to the Shawinigan Industries of Canada, but the campaign was short-lived. The Fire Wolf only appeared in print ads, and unlike Smokey Bear and Woody, he never gained much traction with the public.

4. CAL GREEN

In 1940, Washington state created the first statewide forest fire prevention organization of its kind with the Keep Washington Green Association. By 1949, 24 states had Keep Green programs, and by the 1960s, Keep California Green decided they should have their own mascot. Announced in the 1965 Keep California Green newsletter Keep Greener, cartoon logger Cal Green briefly served as a symbol of the California timber industry as well as a regional figure for fire prevention in what was a growing national movement. Cal’s image showed up on signs and mailings around the state, but the character never managed to catch on, perhaps because Smokey Bear already had such a strong foothold as the national symbol of fire prevention.

5. GUBERIF

A Guberif—"firebug" backwards—was a kind of grotesque insect created by the Keep Idaho Green campaign in the mid-'40s. The character, meant to differentiate Idaho’s fire prevention campaign from those of other states, was said to start forest fires due to reckless behavior. The creature was more popular during its time than you might expect, considering it was a giant bug. In 1951, the Guberif was featured on over 100,000 postcards and 300 road signs in Idaho, some of which can still be seen today, and live Guberifs even showed up at some events.

6. JOE BEAVER

Noted cartoonist Ed Nofziger, who drew characters such as Mister Magoo as well as working for companies like Hanna-Barbera and magazines like The New Yorker, also created the character Joe Beaver. As a pacifist and member of the Church of the Brethren, Nofziger was assigned to the Forest Service as an alternative to active duty during World War II. Joe Beaver first appeared in a publication for the Otsego Forest Cooperator in Cooperstown, N.Y., where Nofziger was stationed. Local popularity led the Forest Service to take the cartoon national, and Joe Beaver soon appeared in trade journals and other publications across the United States. The cartoon was even featured in the 1945 overseas edition of Life magazine.

Save for his ability to speak, Joe Beaver was otherwise a normal animal. He didn’t wear clothes, he lived in a forest, and he built dams like any of his real counterparts. Nofziger never made any money off of his creation, as it was officially owned by the Forest Service, but he had no complaints. "He does not contribute to my family income," Nofzinger once said. "He is a public service. He is given away free." Nofziger continued to put out Joe Beaver cartoons until the end of the 1940s, when the mascot was no longer used by the Forest Service.

13 Ingenious Facts About Rube Goldberg

You turn a fan on, and the air blows a tiny toy sailboat until it hits a domino, causing a chain reaction as hundreds of dominoes are knocked down. As the last domino falls, it pushes a lever that triggers a sharp blade to swing, cracking an egg onto a griddle. An overly elaborate contraption that accomplishes a simple task—in this case, cooking an egg—is an example of a Rube Goldberg Machine.

It's named for inventor and cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and although you’ve most likely seen funny sequences inspired by Goldberg’s machines in films, TV shows, music videos, and comics, you probably don’t know much about his life. In honor of what would be his 135th birthday, here are 13 ingenious facts about Goldberg.

1. HE EARNED AN ENGINEERING DEGREE FROM UC BERKELEY…

Born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883, Goldberg enjoyed drawing as a child and took art lessons from a sign painter. After studying engineering at UC Berkeley, he graduated in 1904 and mapped sewer pipes and water mains for the city of San Francisco. “I studied engineering because my father thought that all cartoonists were, you know, good-for-nothing, Bohemians, and couldn't make a living drawing pictures,” Goldberg revealed in a 1970 interview with Radio Smithsonian.

2. …BUT QUIT HIS JOB TO BECOME A CARTOONIST.

After just six months of work, Goldberg knew that engineering wasn’t the right fit for him. So he worked as a sports cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle before moving to New York City to be a cartoonist at The New York Evening Mail. Some of the comic strips and single-frame cartoons he created had names like "Boob McNutt," "Lala Palooza," and "Foolish Questions." Because his cartoons were nationally syndicated, he became famous and was extraordinarily well paid.

In the mid 1910s, he started illustrating complex contraptions, including a machine that automatically reduced a fat man’s weight and a sanitary way to lick a postage stamp. Between 1929 and 1931, he drew his absurd machine inventions for a series called “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts,” which was inspired by his experiences in college engineering classes.

3. ONE OF HIS POLITICAL CARTOONS WON A PULITZER PRIZE.

In 1948, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a political cartoon called "Peace Today," in which he depicted the precarious balance between world control and destruction due to the atomic bomb. In a separate political cartoon (shown above), he drew a Rube Goldberg Machine to criticize President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s strategy to fix the economy by creating multiple governmental agencies.

4. BECAUSE OF HATE MAIL HE RECEIVED, GOLDBERG CHANGED THE LAST NAMES OF HIS CHILDREN.

The Goldberg family in 1929. Wikimedia Commons

Goldberg and his wife, Irma Seeman, had two sons, George and Thomas Goldberg. During World War II, Goldberg, who was Jewish, was publishing a good amount of political satire; he began receiving large amounts of hate mail, which included numerous death threats. To safeguard his sons, Goldberg decided to change their last names. When Thomas, his older son, chose the last name "George," Goldberg's younger son, George, decided to choose the same surname so that the brothers would have a cohesive family name. Thus, Goldberg's sons became known as Thomas George and George W. George. 

5. HE WROTE A FILM FOR THE THREE STOOGES BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS.

Twentieth Century Fox hired Goldberg to write a script for a feature film involving his complex machines. After writing in Hollywood for three months, the film came out in 1930. Called Soup To Nuts, the film wasn’t hugely successful, but it starred a pre-fame Three Stooges. Before they were Moe, Larry, and Curly, the vaudeville group consisted of four men who called themselves Ted Healy and his Stooges. Besides Healy and his Stooges, Soup To Nuts featured machines such as an anti-burglar device and a self-tipping hat.

6. HE WENT TO JAIL FOR REFEREEING A FIGHT IN HARLEM.

Goldberg admitted that he went to jail once, during his early years as a cartoonist for The New York Evening Mail. While covering fights for the newspaper, another sports writer would occasionally earn extra money refereeing the (illegal) fights. Goldberg accompanied him to cover a fight in Harlem and ended up keeping time since he was the only person there with a stopwatch. Before long, cops raided the fight and arrested Goldberg for being the timekeeper. An older fighter from the ring paid Goldberg's $500 bond.

7. HIS NAME IS AN ADJECTIVE IN THE DICTIONARY.

In 1931, Merriam-Webster immortalized Goldberg by putting his name in the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster, Rube Goldberg is an adjective that means "doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary." Speaking about his unexpected fame, the cartoonist later said: "I incorporated those [chain reaction machine inventions] in my regular cartoons and, for some reason or other, they were taken up. They stood out and I'm typed as an inventor; I'm a crazy inventor … and my name is in the dictionary and I'm very pleased." According to Goldberg’s official website, he’s the only person in history to be listed as an adjective in Merriam-Webster (as just the name alone, as opposed to namesake adjectives like, say, Shakespearean or Machiavellian).

8. AT 80 YEARS OLD, HE BECAME A SCULPTOR.

Most people don’t begin entirely new careers in their 80s, but Goldberg decided to take up sculpture. “I just bought some clay, and some sticks, tools and all, and I didn't know you had to use an armature [a wire frame around which sculptors build the clay],” he told Radio Smithsonian. He viewed sculpting as a natural continuation of his engineering and cartooning work, and he even got commissions for his work. Goldberg molded busts of politicians, authors, and friends, and he had shows of his work in New York and California. In 1970, the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology featured an exhibition of his career; Goldberg died in December of that year at age 87.

9. THE REUBEN AWARD FOR CARTOONISTS IS NAMED AFTER HIM.

Musicians have Grammy Awards, actors have Oscars, and cartoonists have Reubens. Since 1954, the National Cartoonists Society has awarded the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year to a top cartoonist. Named after Goldberg, whose full name was Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg, the award itself is a statue based on one of his sculptures. He later joked that the trophy looked grotesque, and although the award is named after him, it took him 22 years to win one himself.

10. HE GOT HIS OWN U.S. POSTAGE STAMP.

Goldberg’s black and white cartoon of a man using a self-operating napkin became a U.S. postage stamp in 1995. The colorized stamp shows the steps involved in the contraption: the man raises a spoon to his mouth, and a napkin wipes his mouth after a series of steps involving a string, ladle, cracker, parrot, seeds, cup, cord, clock, lighter, and sickle.

11. EACH YEAR, TEAMS COMPETE IN RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTESTS.

Since 1988, teams of students have competed each year in Rube Goldberg Machine Contests to build machines that evoke the spirit of Goldberg. Teams compete for prizes such as Best Design and Funniest Step (one step being a transfer from one action to another). Prior winners have built elaborate contraptions to zip a zipper, water a plant, erase a chalkboard, and open an umbrella.

12. YOU CAN USE AN APP TO CREATE A DIGITAL RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE.

To try your hand at creating your own (digital) Rube Goldberg machine, download the Rube Works app on your phone. As the first officially licensed Goldberg game, Rube Works allows players to build machines to achieve simple goals, such as getting a glass of orange juice. The game incorporates puzzles, illustrations, physics, and logic, challenging players to build functional machines to get to the next level.

13. HIS FAMILY MEMBERS CONTINUE HIS LEGACY.

In the late 1980s, one of Goldberg’s sons started Rube Goldberg, Inc. (RGI), a company that keeps the cartoonist’s legacy alive via licensing and merchandising. RGI also hosts Rube Goldberg Machine Contests, created the official Rube Works app, and promotes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics education. Today, Jennifer George, Rube’s granddaughter, serves as the company's legacy director and recently published a book on his work.

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Why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Was Hero Turtles in the UK
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by Simon Brew

When the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie made it to British cinemas in 1990, there was a disparity that became immediately apparent to the youth of the United Kingdom. By this time, kids around the world were familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, yet kids in the UK knew it under a different name: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

So, why the change?

At the time, the British government was on the offensive against violence in children's television, and ninjas and nunchucks were both in the firing line. As such, in spite of the preexisting comic line, it soon became clear that Ninja Turtles wasn't going to be allowed near England's impressionable youth. Thus, the turtles needed to be heroes, not ninjas, and the cartoon theme song lyrics, action figure packaging, and video game box art needed to reflect that.

Since the movie wasn't being screened on children's television, it managed to escape the alterations and keep its original title. However, nunchucks were still taboo, so only brief glimpses of Michelangelo's signature weapon are seen in the UK version of the movie—and they're never used in action. The censorship was so strict, that in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, a scene in which Michelangelo uses a pair of sausage links as faux nunchucks was also edited out, leading to the following note from the British Board of Film Classification: "After turtle takes down sausages and uses them as a flail. Reduce to minimum dazzling display of swinging sausages indistinguishable from chainsticks."

The changes in the cartoon name stretched well beyond the UK and actually affected other European countries as well. Episodes of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were aired to children in Austria, Germany, Norway, and Belgium, before the title eventually reverted to Ninja Turtles as subsequent reruns began airing years later. And if you visit Nickelodeon's UK website for the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that began in 2012, the name remains unchanged (you can even see a picture of Michelangelo holding some nunchucks).

It's fair to say that the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles name is pretty much no more, but here's a look at the edited intro sequence that British children got to watch:

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