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What is a Smokey Bear Hat?

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  • Written By: Nicole F.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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A Smokey Bear hat is a broad-brimmed hat with a very high crown and a distinctive crease with four corners. It is popularly known as the drill sergeant hat, ranger hat, cavalry hat, Scoutmaster hat, or a lemon squeezer. The proper name, however, is the campaign hat, because of its association with the military.

The Smokey Bear hat is typically made of straw or felt and the high crown is pinched on four corners in a Montana crease. It was originally worn by soldiers during World War I and then adopted by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts and made the hat part of the Scout uniform. The hat became a visible symbol of the Scouting movement and made the hat even more popular with defense, military and outdoors organizations. Soldiers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, drill sergeants, park rangers, and US state patrol officers have also adopted the Smokey Bear hat.

The Smokey Bear hat was designed to allow effective water runoff and protection from the elements for soldiers in the First World War, but it proved to be fairly ineffective. Unlike a Stetson, which the hat was derived from, it usually came with a chinstrap. It was also not worn tilted back, but rather horizontal, or sometimes slightly angled to one ear.

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Despite how ineffective the hat really is against the weather, the hat became a traditional symbol of authority and outdoors expertise. Modern organizations that have adopted the Smokey Bear hat have created their own very unique and immediately recognizable variations. However, even if a Mountie or a drill sergeant wears the hat, it is still known universally as a Smokey Bear hat.

The name Smokey Bear hat comes from a poster produce in 1944 for the US Forest Service. The poster displayed a bear wearing jeans and a campaign hat with the name Smokey on it. According to popular belief, the poster was created after a bear cub was rescued from a forest fire and named Smokey, but the opposite is true: the rescued bear cub was named after the character on the poster. The posters of Smokey Bear wearing the hat became a very successful and popular campaign against forest fires and were used for more than 60 years. The image became so predominant that most people know the hat as a Smokey Bear hat rather than by its original name.

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Pippinwhite
Post 2

@Lostnfound -- My grandfather was in World War I, and we have a photo of him in his campaign hat (or Smokey Bear).

You're right about most state troopers seeming to prefer the Smokey Bear hat. Seems like most city police departments have the peaked cap that looks like what military officers wear, while other law enforcement units use the Smokey Bear hat.

I like either look, myself. It's kind of like a nurse's cap -- they look like law enforcement when they wear the cap.

Lostnfound
Post 1

Many state trooper units also wear the Smokey Bear hat. Some wear cowboy hats, but the Smokey Bear seems to be a popular choice with state troopers and wildlife rangers. Seems like a lot of sheriff's deputies wear Smokey Bear hats, too. They do present an immediate air of authority, and they also block the sun well because of their broad brims.

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