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Teddy Bear History
Where It All Started

Teddy Bear History > Where it all started...

Richard SteiffThe history of what we know today as the Teddy Bear begins in Germany, in late October 1902, where Richard Steiff, a toy designer working for the family firm in Giengen, in search of ideas for new toys and went to see a touring American circus. Among the performing animals he saw there was a troupe of bears. They sparked off his ideas and he saw the possibility of making a bear toy jointed in a similar way to the dolls that they produced.

He put his thoughts down on paper for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, born in 1847 and who had founded the firm in 1880. She liked the idea and Richard set to work on visiting zoo’s to sketch bears.

There had been bear toys before, often made from real fur and mostly on wheels, but these had all been copies of real bears on all fours. Richard Steiff however, wanted his bear to be able to stand upright.

In November 1902, the American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt was relaxing during a trip to settle a border dispute in Mississippi and was taking part in a hunting trip in the state of Mississippi. Having had no luck in finding a bear, members of the presidential hunting party tracked and caught a small black bear which, as the story goes, was a motherless cub. They tied it to a tree and then “invited” the President to shoot it as a trophy of his visit. When the president arrived on the scene he refused to shoot the bear, considering it to be unsportsmanlike.

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The incident caused Clifford K Berryman to draw a cartoon titled “Drawing The Line in Mississippi” which linked the incident to the political dispute that had taken President Roosevelt to Mississippi in the first place. The cartoon appeared in the Washington Post on the 16th November 1902

The cartoon drew immediate attention.  In Brooklyn, NY, shopkeeper Morris Michtom displayed 2 toy bears in the window of his Stationery and Novelty store with the cartoon.

The bears had been made by his wife Rose from black plush stuffed excelsior and finished with black button eyes. Michtom soon recognised the immediate popularity of the new toy.

Berrymans Cartoon of Roosevelt

This rendition is of the Berryman cartoon as it appeared in The Washington Post with the caption “Drawing the line in Mississippi”

He requested and received permission from President ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt personally to call them Teddy's Bears. As demand for these new toys increased, Michtom moved his business to a loft where, with the backing of the Butler Brothers opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, later called the Ideal Toy Company which was one of the largest American toy companies.

President Theodore Roosevelt with Berryman cartoon

President Theodore Roosevelt with the Berryman cartoon

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About the same time as it was born in the United States, the Teddy Bear was also born in Giengen in Germany. The Steiff Company of Giengen first introduced the stuffed jointed bear BAR 55PB, christened “Friend Petz” at the 1903 Leipzig Toy Fair.

It was here where a New York Toy Importer, Hermann Borgford of George Borgford & Co. ordered several thousand of the Steiff bears for shipping to the USA because of the popularity of the “teddy’s bear” toy there.

Although other stories have been told regarding the birth of this wonderful toy, the amazing coincidence of the simultaneous births in Brooklyn and Giengen are substantiated and the world has come to know this stuffed animal by the American name of Teddy Bear. 

It is now accepted by everyone that this came from the above story about President Roosevelt.

You might also be interested in...
Where, and how, the Teddy Bear was born
What happened to the Teddy Bear next
Some people who had a major influence on the design of the Teddy Bear
For the fact hounds... A Teddy Bear Timeline
The Lyrics (and music) to the famous song - Teddy Bears’ Picnic
Some interesting facts about picnics, the music, Jimmy Kennedy, John W Bratton...
Teddy Love ... our ongoing love affair with the Teddy Bear

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