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Archive for September, 2008

Mad Men Miss the Mark

The Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame has just this week announced 2008′s class of inductees.  The advertising characters Geico Caveman and the Serta Sheep have been honored, alongside previously inducted icons such as the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Colonel Sanders, and the Kool-Aid Man.  Shockingly, the U.S. Forest Service’s Smokey Bear was again denied the bronze plaque and lamppost banner that comes with a place on the Walk.

While public voting is the reason for Smokey’s egregious exclusion, there is no doubt that he deserves a prime spot within any discussion of influential marketing icons.  Smokey Bear is the face of one of the most successful campaigns (actually too successful, some have argued) of the 20th century.  It has been stated that at one point Smokey was the third most recognized figure in American popular culture, behind Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse.  Not only that, but in 1964 the U.S. Post Office gave Smokey his own zip code (20252) due to the overwhelming amount of mail he was receiving from children.  Do sheep get mail?

Smokey also once hosted his own successful television program (something certain Cavemen couldn’t do), as well as being featured in all types of books, comics, and magazines.  Regardless, we here at the Peeling Back the Bark blog would like to honor Smokey Bear.  Enjoy the following clip, one of our favorite historic Smokey televison PSAs, which also features Vaughn Monroe and his family (Monroe being best known for recording the best selling version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” in 1949).

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Nevada Historical Marker 221 is one of the markers that the state verified after reviewing our article. Image courtesy of Robert Wynn.

The location of Nevada Historical Marker 221 is one of the markers verified by the state after reviewing our article. Image courtesy of Robert Wynn.

Our recent Forest History Today article, “Timber for the Comstock,” told the history of lumbering around the eastern Sierra and Lake Tahoe area of Nevada. It centered on a set of eight historical markers that tell a forest history story; the idea was to provide a driving tour of historical interest. Some of those markers are located between Reno and Carson City where US 395 is being moved and modernized. Tom Straka’s article pointed out that old directions to the markers were now fuzzy and sometimes incorrect. The state’s Historical Preservation Office undertook a survey of the markers in the article to confirm locations and rewrite directions if necessary (and to even get GPS coordinates). The survey started with the eight markers in the article, but continues on for all the historical markers in the state. There will likely be a new state historical marker booklet with more accurate directions for roads that have changed and one reason will be the Forest History Today article.

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Bandit Junior RaindropIn 2007, the Forest History Society became the fortunate recipient of the Rudolph Wendelin Papers, 1930-2005. This collection comprises the personal papers and artwork of Rudolph “Rudy” Wendelin (1910-2000), who is the best known artist behind the United States Forest Service mascot and spokesman “Smokey Bear.” In addition to the widely recognized and much beloved Smokey Bear, Wendelin produced imagery for the U. S. Forest Service; conservation-focused drawings, sculpture, and commemorative stamps; and, upon retirement from the Forest Service, political cartoons for a Northern Virginia newspaper.

While processing and describing the diverse materials from this collection, I came across sketches and storyboards for the environmental film The Adventures of Junior Raindrop. Wendelin created the artwork for this 1948 Forest Service project, in which a “delinquent raindrop” learns the need for good watershed management. Educating students about the water cycle and soil erosion, Junior Raindrop contains such delightfully bizarre lines as “He’s formed a gang, and they’re whooping it up for a flash flood!”

Thanks to the glory of the Internet, clips may be viewed on a variety of sites, including YouTube, Open Video Project, and Internet Archive.

Watch the bandit raindrops and learn a little about watershed management:


To learn more about Rudy Wendelin, please visit our online finding aid.

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As historic photographs in the FHS collections are digitized and added to our online image database, photos are also periodically grouped into browsable online galleries organized by subject.  The newest gallery, just added to our website, features images relating to World War I.  Much of this set is made up of photos documenting the important behind-the-scenes war work done by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.  Workers at the laboratory performed tests and experiments on all types of wood products used by American soldiers.  Items such as the wooden boxes and packing crates designed for transporting mortar shells were built and tested at the laboratory.

The strength of these boxes was thoroughly put to the test by a giant, 27 ton rotating metal drum used at the Laboratory.  This drum effectively measured the durability of the wooden boxes and crates built to transport various war materials such as shells, bombs, and foodstuffs.

The Laboratory also conducted much of the American aircraft-related research done during the war, such as testing wooden airplane wings and propellers.  One project involved testing the effectiveness of propellers made from different species of wood under closely controlled conditions.  (For more information on wooden aircraft during WWI, see “Wooden Aircraft and the Great War” from the October 1978 issue of the Journal of Forest History).

The work done by the Laboratory did not end with WWI, as even today wood products play a role in military efforts.  In 2006, the Forest Products Laboratory performed tests on the wooden propellers of the Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aircraft, which are currently used by the U.S. Army for reconnaissance and surveillance in Iraq.

Visit the complete World War I gallery here.
Browse previously posted photo galleries, organized by subject here.

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