The Teddy Bear

Nothing speaks volumes of one’s childhood since 1900 than one’s own ‘Terry Bear’. I’m sure everyone remembers their terry bear and what it meant to them.

German businesswoman Margarite Steiff was stricken with polio early in life, but still received an education thanks to her siblings faithfully loading her into a hay cart and taking her to school everyday as she could not use her legs freely. Steiff’s right arm was also affected, though this did not stop her from learning to sew and eventually running a tailor shop in the 1870s.

One day Steiff decided to make a small elephant pin cushion that had been featured in a ladies’ magazine. When presented to her customers, she was surprised to find afterwards that their children were going wild for the stuffed elephant “toys.” Soon Steiff was creating other stuffed animals in her workshop, which was growing and in 1880 her company was made official. She was joined by her nephew in 7 years and set forth the idea of selling toy bears.

In 1903 at a toy trade show in Germany and an American wholesaler, George Borgefeldt then imported the bears to the U.S. They weren’t called teddy bears yet in Germany, but the Steiff bears caused a sensation in the U.S. as well as in Germany.

In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt went on a hunting trip at the invitation of Mississippi Governor Andrew Longino that yielded a bear for every other member of his hunting party except the POTUS, leaving Roosevelt with no trophy for his efforts. Feeling bad about that, his guide, Holt Collier, found an old bear by tracking it with hunting dogs. Collier tied the now-injured old bear to a tree and led Roosevelt to the tree, claiming that he could now say he’d shot a bear on this hunting trip.

Disgusted by the lack of sportsmanship inherent to shooting a wounded and tethered animal for sport, Roosevelt reportedly ordered that injured the bear be put down, but that he would not do it and Collier had to kill the bear with his knife. This event made headlines in all the newspapers with illustations of the bear being cute and cuddly club.

It was Morris Mitchom and his wife, Rose came up with selling stuffed velveteen bears as gifts. They did contacted Roosevelt and sent him one of the stuffed bears and asked permission to use the name “Teddy” to market them. Roosevelt agreed and they were very successful in sales. Eventually, they created the toy company ‘Ideal Toy Co.’

Roosevelt used the teddy bears in his 1904 campaign as a symbol of the Republican party and their popularity grew within the U.S. very quickly. The American market for teddy bears was initially fed by both the German supplier Steiff as well as by American toy company Ideal. By World War I, teddy bears were common gifts requested and received at Christmas, though it would be some years before teddy bears were found in nearly every child’s bedroom.

Photo: 1930s Teddy Bear

Related Blogs:

Christmas Toys in the early 20th Century

Remembering Childhood Toys

National Teddy Bear Day

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