Forebears of the Modern Teddy

Teddy Bear Therapy

Winnie the Pooh

Bears in the News

X Ray

Making and Collecting Teddy Bears

Good Bad Fat Skinny

Some people never get over teddy bears. And why should they? Teddy bears are about security, comfort and non-judgmental friendship. They are also the size, shape and sometimes even the weight of infants. "It's all very psychological. People without children are most prone to be collectors," says bear artist Debbie Kesling, "On the other hand, only people without children can AFFORD to be collectors."

Forebearers of the Modern Teddy

Believe it or not, the teddy bear began in 1902, coincidentally springing up on two different continents.

In Germany, art student Richard Steiff had gone to work for the company business which was run by his aunt, Margaret Steiff. Confined to a wheelchair, Margaret had taught the zither to music students until 1889, when she saved enough to buy a sewing machine to make dresses. Her dressmaking was a large success among the stylish people and she quickly built up the business. By 1897 had 40 people working for her, including her brother, Richard's father. Richard went to work on the sales force, but got tired of selling dresses. In 1902, Richard started lollygagging around the Stuttgart Zoo, sketching monkeys and bears with the idea of designing a series of jointed stuffed animals that the company could make and sell.

Meanwhile, back in the States, President Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Mississippi to settle a border dispute. While there, he decided to engage in a peculiar but common recreation of the time killing wild animals for fun.
After several hours, however, the president was frustrated that he hadn't found anything worth wasting a bullet on. An advance team came upon a bear cub, and knowing of the president's frustration, they tied it to a tree so Roosevelt could shoot it and have a trophy to show off when he got home. When the president came upon the scene, though, he couldn't bring himself to shoot the helpless creature.

Today, of course, shooting a bear especially one tied up, especially a cub! would've likely gotten Roosevelt impeached. At that time, however, hunting was common and his refusal to kill it was apparently considered an unusually kindhearted act. The moment was immortalized in a cartoon by Clifford Berryman called "Drawing the Line."
The story spread around the country. It gave Brooklynite candy store owner Morris Michtom a marketing idea. He and his wife sketched out a pattern and made a stuffed bear that he put in his store window with a copy of the famous cartoon and a handpainted sign that said, "Teddy's Bear." Making money in a bear market can be hard, but Michtom sold so many of the toys that he closed his candy store and founded the Ideal Toy Company.

In Germany, the Steiff Company was unaware that bear mania was growing like a tree in Brooklyn. That spring, the company debuted Richard's designs at the Leipzig Toy Fair. None of the European buyers were interested, but just as they were packing up at the end of the fair an American toy buyer, perhaps knowing of the bear mania going on at home, ran up and ordered 3000 bears.

In a consumer frenzy that foreshadowed the Beany Baby craze of our own time both companies rode a bear craze in the US and Europe. By 1907, Steiff had sold nearly a million bears, while Michtom had begun manufacturing a million bears a year. Steiff stuck to it and still makes very pricy stuffed toys; Ideal diversified into a variety of popular toys in the 1950s and '60s and still makes race cars and things...but no stuffed bears.

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