Teddy Bears: A History

The teddy bear as we know it today surfaced only at the start of the 20th century. And like all other famed inventions (for instance, television), it was a collaborative process.

One of the first ever known appearance of the stuffed toy bear was in the catalog of German toy manufacturer, Gebruder Sussenguth, way back in 1894. This as German seamstress, Margarete Steiff, also started handmaking stuffed bers. Steiff had been making these toys for a few years ahead of Gebruder Sussenguth, but the idea of toy bears wasn’t very popular for many people in Europe yet.

In 1903, things changed when an order for 3,000 teddy bears was placed by a buyer from a U.S. toy store after seeing Steiff’s works at a Leipzig fair. This buyer found a business opportunity based on a real-life event.

In 1902, the President of America was Theodore Roosevelt, who enjoying hunting in the wild. At a hunting trip in Mississippi, Roosevelt couldn’t kill a bear, so the people with him took one and strapped the animal to a tree. Roosevelt could have easily shot it and claimed a certain kill. However, “Teddy” (the former President’s nickname) instead ordered the men to spare the bear, refusing to shoot a helpless animal.
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As expected, this incident found its way in American newspapers. It was the very subject of Clifford Berryman’s cartoon in the Washington Post entitled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” and that buyer of 3,000 bears obviously found an opportunity.
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This was followed by two Russian immigrants, Morris and Rose Michton, who also produced their own stuffed toy bears. They made many bears and intended to market them. They even sent President Roosevelt one of the toys, asking if he would let them name it after him. Roosevelt gave his permission, the product was named, “Teddy’s Bear” and soon, sales soon took off.

The Michtons’ bear though was slightly different from the Steiff bear. The Michtons’ bear was more identical to the Washington Post cartoon, while the Steiff bear looked more realistic. After Roosevelt’s nod, sales of the two skyrocketed. Other toy manufacturing companies came on board over the years, and now, and the teddy bear continues to be a staple of toy collections across the globe.

Unknown to most, teddy bears were not meant only for children. Especially in the first few years of their popularity, adults used to buy them as a way of being “in fashion.” And as the toys’ popularity increased, so did their sophistication. There were somersaulting teddy bears, musical teddy bears, and the rest. Post World War II, several of them were washable. And they remain to be mainstays of both kids’ and adults’ toy collections today.