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Interpreting the Evidence

"Prevent Forest Fires" Sign, c. 1920

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load "Prevent Forest Fires" Sign, c. 1920 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A sign in the Adirondack Mountains warning people to be careful not to set forest fires, circa 1920.
Historical Context
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a multitude of large, dangerous, and expensive forest fires caused New York State to dedicate new manpower and develop new technologies for reporting forest fires throughout the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The "great fires" of 1903 and 1908, which consumed nearly one million acres of forest, led to the creation of fire districts with fire superintendents, fire patrolmen, and a systematic approach to address citizens' concerns about forest fire management in the Adirondacks. In 1909, the first Adirondack fire tower was built.

This sign was posted by the New York State Conservation Commission.  It reads, "You are in the Adirondack Forest. Prevent forest fires. Extinguish matches, cigars and cigarettes. Put out your Camp fire before you leave. Your enjoyment of the woods depends on your care with fire."

Essential Question
How do human settlement patterns impact the environment?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this sign and explain why this sign was needed.
Historical Challenges
Research the origins of Smokey the Bear.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a newspaper article as if it were the year 1920 that describes safety precautions one must take to prevent forest fires.
Art: Create a poster for fire safety week.