After Hours

Geek Trivia: ZIP code of honor

Who is the only fictional character ever to be granted a U.S. Postal Service Unique ZIP code, a distinction normally reserved for corporations, universities, and government agencies that are routinely deluged with high volumes of mail delivered to a single address?

Who is the only fictional character ever to be granted a U.S. Postal Service Unique ZIP code, a distinction normally reserved for corporations, universities, and government agencies that are routinely deluged with high volumes of mail delivered to a single address?

Our imaginary celebrity is none other than Smokey Bear, the iconic ursine advocate of forest fire prevention. Smokey was created in 1944 by the Ad Council as a mascot for fire-prevention efforts during World War II, when lumber was a critical war resource. He grew so incredibly popular in the early 1960s — and thus received so many letters from his fans — that, in 1964, the U.S. Postal Service granted him his own ZIP code: 20252. By that point, a Unique ZIP code was small potatoes for Smokey; in 1952, the Smokey Bear Act was passed by Congress to take him out of public domain and place his image under the control of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, in perpetuity.

(Two asides: Yes, there was a real Smokey Bear. No, his name was not Smokey the Bear. The real Smokey was an American Black Bear cub rescued from a fire in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico in 1950. He was named after the fictional Smokey and lived for more than 25 years at the National Zoo in Washington DC. His remains are interred at Smokey Bear National Park in Capitan, NM. The "the" in Smokey's name is not correct or official. The definite article was placed in Smokey's name for lyrical purposes in a 1952 hit song by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, which has led to some confusion, but Smokey's middle name is not the.)

To date, Smokey is the only fictional character to receive a Unique ZIP code, largely because the U.S. Postal Service prefers to route mail addressed to such figures to real, humorously appropriate addresses. For example, mail addressed to Santa Claus (assuming he's fictional) is routed to the post office in Santa Claus, Indiana (though the General Electric facility in Schenectady, NY often gets its share, thanks to its 12345 ZIP code, which many people assume is the ZIP code for the North Pole).

That's not just some parsimonious parcel parsing, it is an excellent epistolary example of Geek Trivia.

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About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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