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What is the History of Teddy Bears?

By K T Solis
Updated May 23, 2024
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The lovable teddy bear can be found in various forms all around the world. It shows up primarily in stuffed animal form, but is also found on t-shirts, dresses, posters, lunch boxes, and more. Most people do not know that teddy bears haven't been around that long. In fact, the teddy bear was invented in the U.S. and Germany almost at the same time during the early 20th century.

In November 1902, U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was involved in a hunting expedition in Mississippi. He was in the area in order to settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. An avid hunter, Roosevelt was disappointed because he couldn't find any big game to shoot during the hunt. In response, his host caught a black bear cub and tied it to a tree so Roosevelt could kill it.

Legend has it that Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, reasoning that the action would be cruel since the animal was tethered to a tree and defenseless. After hearing about this incident, artist Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon of Roosevelt and the bear. He then had the cartoon published in the Washington Post.

That very same month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom created a soft bear toy. They dubbed it "Teddy's Bear" and placed it in the shop window along with a copy of Berryman's cartoon. To their surprise, Americans loved the idea and clamored to buy teddy bears. The original Teddy's Bear sported a chubby body, a face shaped like a triangle, and long arms and legs. Soon, the Michtoms grew rich from the proceeds and were able to begin the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

During the same time period, a disabled German woman named Margarete Steiff owned a soft toy factory in the city of Giengen. Her company included a soft bear in its toy catalog. Earlier, her nephew Richard had convinced Steiff to add bears to her list of toys. Reportedly, Richard had a fondness for bears and thought they would make a good addition to Steiff's product list.

Steiff began to manufacture soft bears, never realizing how popular they would become. In 1903, she sold 3000 toy bears to people in the United States. Between 1903 and the start of World War I, millions of bears were purchased from the Steiff toy catalog. Each bear had a button sewn in the left ear, the toys' trademark. People in England, the U.S., and Germany all bought toys from Steiff's company.

No one really knows for sure who should be credited with creating the first stuffed teddy bears, but most people would agree that teddy bears have enjoyed a long life. Their beginnings in the early 20th century paved the way for them to become one of the most popular toys to give a young child. Today, people buy teddy bears in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Despite the yearly influx of high-tech toys, the world's love affair with the simple teddy bear continues to endure.

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Discussion Comments

By cathy123456 — On Oct 07, 2013

This is my first time to know about the history of the teddy bear.

By toyswill — On Sep 02, 2013

The teddy bear's history has impressed me, so I think the teddy bear is a very good toy. It remembers Teddy Roosevelt and also reminds people not to hunt animals!

By anon152579 — On Feb 14, 2011

The original, first Teddy Bear was made in honor of then President, Theodore Roosevelt. A tubby body, golden mohair, stood upright on two feet and had an endearing baby face, which caused a frenzy with the local people of Brooklyn to acquire these bears. Very few of these early bears were hand crafted by the Michtom's. In today's world, these Teddys would be in the Smithsonian.

By behaviourism — On Nov 10, 2010

The history of toys is so interesting. To think that classic plush teddy bears are inspired by an actual black bear cub makes them even more adorable to me. Too bad actual bear cubs are not quite so cuddly.

By Catapult — On Nov 10, 2010

While I had heard that teddy bears were named after Teddy Roosevelt, I had never heard the story about the bear cub. Assuming it's true, that is a really wonderful story about Roosevelt. I always thought he sounded like a good president and a good man, and now I'm even more convinced.

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