It’s (almost) Smokey Bear’s birthday. Here are some other decidedly less iconic government mascots.


Smokey in his salad days, in 1948. (U.S. Forest Service handout)

Everyone’s favorite government-sponsored bear, Smokey, officially becomes a septuagenarian this weekend. In celebration, Smokey hosted a Twitter chat, because senior citizen bears can totally tweet.

Smokey was “born” on Aug. 9, 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council made him up. He’s since become the star of one of the longest-running government PSAs.

While Smokey is the most recognizable of all U.S. government mascots (aside from, perhaps, Uncle Sam himself), he certainly isn’t the only member of the, ah, U.S. Government Mascots Association (no, that’s not a real thing). Agencies have been creating mascots for decades to promote all sorts of causes — from an owl who’s prepared for major storms to a turtle that protects himself against online identity theft.

Agencies also utilize many of these mascots in materials made specifically for children. Because any message — no matter how worthwhile (or obscure) – must have a spokesperson, preferably an anthropomorphic one.

Here are some of the (odd) government mascots you may have missed:

Environmental Protection Agency: Thirstin’

(EPA.gov)
Say hello to Thirstin’, because he is saying hello to you. (EPA.gov)

Thirstin’ is not just a state of being but also the name of a water glass that encourages kids to be mindful of water consumption. You can even play Thirstin’ games online!

He’s primarily a character used by the EPA for educational outreach. “Glass of water with a baseball cap” is not a very catchy name for a mascot, so “Thirstin” will have to do.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Thermy

Thermy is the messenger of a national consumer education campaign designed to promote the use of food thermometers, developed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

This thermometer is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. He wants you to use thermometers to protect yourself from the dangers of undercooked food.

We would dock points here because “Thermy” is about the laziest name for a thermometer mascot, but at least it’s relevant to the cause. And he’s got friends! “BAC” (short for Bacterium) and others have joined him for previous Macy’s Day Parades and other events. Thermy, by the way, wears jersey No. 160. No coincidence that, according to the USDA, you should “cook all raw ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.”

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held its annual “Take Your Child to Work Day” on the patio of the Whitten Building, in Washington, DC, on Thursday, April 28, 2011. The program is designed to introduce young people to USDA’s wide range of responsibilities and services. “Thermy” is the Food Safety and Inspections Service (FSIS) messenger to remind consumers to use food thermometers to ensure that their food is cooked to the correct temperature. “BAC” is the big green cartoon character used for FSIS “Fight BAC” campaign against bacteria. The campaign focuses on four important messages for consumers: wash hands and surfaces frequently; don’t’ cross contaminate; cook to proper temperatures; and refrigerate promptly. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
Thermy and BAC at USDA’s annual Take Your Child to Work Day on the patio of the Whitten Building in Washington on April 28, 2011. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung/Flickr)

Federal Trade Commission: Dewie the E-Turtle

The FTC launched a public service campaign in 2002 to encourage Americans to secure their private information online. It also included a turtle named Dewie.

Here’s why: “Dewie’s wired, but carries his security shell no matter what he’s doing on the Internet,” the agency said at the time. Think of that — a turtle as a WiFi hotspot!

We must admit that guarding against Internet fraud doesn’t make us think, “Hey, turtles!” But the use of “E” in “E-turtle” is such a throwback to early-aughts Internet culture that we’ll let it slide.

National Weather Service: Owlie Skywarn

Perhaps the savviest of agency mascots on social media is this self-proclaimed “Hurricane enthusiast, snowman sculptor, devoted cloud watcher.” Owlie Skywarn has his own Twitter feed and Facebook profile. The nerdy owl reps the National Weather Service.

Skywarn — the owl’s family name — is also what the NWS calls its severe-weather-watching volunteer program. We imagine Owlie’s disproportionately large eyes must be an asset in spotting weather.

tk tk tk
This owl can apparently sculpt snowmen with its wings. (Twitter.com)

Energy Department: Energy Ant

(OSTI.gov)
Energy Ant in 1977 (Department of Energy via OSTI.gov)

Energy Ant has been around at least since the 1970s and is used by the agency to spread awareness about energy issues. (There’s also an Energy Department villain, Energy Hog, who doubles as what appears to be a Hell’s Angel. Major points for the pun here.)

Energy Ant is obviously one of the greatest of all agency mascots, because of his past life as a news reporter: In this 1970s PSA, the ant filed a live report from “Cinderella’s Disco Ball.”

Did we overlook your favorite federal government mascot? Let us know in the comments!

Elahe Izadi is a general assignment national reporter for The Washington Post. She can be reached at elahe.izadi@washpost.com and on Twitter @ElaheIzadi.
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