History of the Teddy Bear

The exact date of when the first Teddy Bear was made largely depends on whether you live in the United States or in Europe, although it should be said that both countries have serious claims of creating the first Teddy Bear.

So who made the first Teddy Bear?

The most famous Teddy Bear in Europe is the antique Steiff Teddy Bear. The Steiff Teddy Bear story began in Glengen, a small river town in Southern Germany where Margarete Steiff was born. As a child she developed polio and was confined to a wheelchair, but this did not hold her back, and by 1897 she was a renowned toymaker and designer. Margarete’s nephew, Richard Steiff, had studied art at school and he helped his aunt with the design and production of her toy business. Looking for a new idea for a stuffed toy, Richard went to the Stuttgart Zoo. Among the animals he saw there was a troupe of performing bears, which gave him the idea of a bear which stood upright and was jointed, similar to the way dolls were made. Richard sketched the bears and gave the drawings to his aunt and from these drawings Margarete designed a jointed bear.

It was at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903 that the Teddy Bear first appeared. At first no one seemed interested in the jointed bear, but as Richard was packing up his stand at the end of the fair, he was approached by a buyer, Hermann Berg from the New York toy company, Geo Borgfeldt & Co, who was complaining he could not find anything new to purchase. Richard displayed the jointed teddy bear and upon seeing the bear Berg ordered several thousand that day, this was the beginning of the Steiff Teddy Bear we have all come to know and love.

The American Teddy Bear

Morris and Rose Michtom, who were the owners of a Brooklyn candy store can take the credit for creating the first Teddy Bear in the United States in 1902. This happened after they saw an incident described in a cartoon by the Washington Post’s political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman. The incident took place on the 14th November 1902 where Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was relaxing after political bargaining, concerning disputed boundaries between the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. A hunting trip was arranged by his hosts near an area by the Little Sunflower River in Mississippi. In an effort to please the President the guide, Holt Collier captured and stunned a bear cub, and tied it to a tree to ensure the President would go home with a trophy.

Unfortunately for Collier the plan backfired because Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear cub and ordered it to be set free. As the press were covering Roosevelt’s visit they quickly heard of the incident resulting in Berryman’s cartoon entitled, ‘Drawing the Line at Mississippi’. The cartoon emphasised that the President was unable to gun down a defenceless bear cub. The incident was featured on the front cover of the Washington Post on the 16th November 1902. The cartoon conveyed the political message that such an upstanding President as Roosevelt could not be persuaded to make decisions for the wrong reasons and Roosevelt’s popularity soared as a result of his actions.

Morris Michtom used the cartoon as a guide to design the pattern of the bear cub he had seen in the cartoon and with the help of his wife, Rose they quickly designed and made a Teddy Bear, putting it in the front window of their shop alongside the cartoon. He called the toy ‘Teddy’s Bear’, whereupon it became so popular that within a year Morris Michtom closed his candy store and founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which was at one time the largest Teddy Bear factory in the United States, and remains one of the biggest toy companies in the world to date.

So although the actual date that the first Teddy Bear was made varies, from the above it is understandable why both Germany and the United States of America take the credit for the first Teddy Bear.

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