History of the Teddy Bear

Early 1900s

The Teddy bear was created in areas of the world at approximately the same time. In Germany, a stuffed toy business owned by Margarete Steiff begun working on a new stuffed toy creation, the stuffed bear. The bear was designed based on sketches that Steiff’s nephew, Richard, had done during one of his visits to the Stuttgart Zoo. It was there that he saw some performing bears and created sketches of these bears. From those sketches the idea for a jointed bear developed.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, an incident involving President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was featured in a now famous cartoon by Clifford Berryman. The cartoon showed President Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear (The Washington Post, 16 November 1902). It was inspired by a hunting trip that the President took during his arbitration of a land dispute. The bear hunting was particularly bad and this resulted in someone capturing a bear for Roosevelt to shoot. However, the President refused to shoot a helpless target.

A Russian immigrant, Morris Michtom, saw the cartoon in The Washington Post, and asked his wife Rose if she could create a stuffed bear similar to that seen in the cartoon. She created a stuffed toy bear, placed it in the window of their shop, and shortly thereafter, it was sold. Rose continued to make more bears, but they sold out almost as soon as they were put in their store window. The toy bear was nicknamed “Teddy’s Bear.” The bear was such a success that after requesting and receiving permission from the President for use of his name with the bear, the couple began to mass produce the bear. The resulting company is the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which still exists today.

Back in Germany, Steiff’s first jointed bear had its official launch at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1903. Although it was not well received by most European buyers, an American buyer who was familiar with the “Teddy’s Bear” craze, asked for 3000 to be shipped to America.

The craze continued in America. As a result, many imitation companies began creating teddy bears. However most of the companies, with the exception of Gund Manufacturing Company, did not last for a long time.

1920s – 1970s

The First World War slowed down the teddy bear craze in Europe. European countries were no longer able to import teddy bears from Germany and the craze died down a bit. However in America, the craze continued. The industry continued to grow as new companies were still emerging. During the 20s and 30s, musical bears became quite popular.

The Second World War put a stop on a large part of the teddy bear industry. Many of the manufacturers stopped creating teddy bears in order to contribute to the war effort. A lot of these companies did not start up again following the war.

Following the war, society began demanding toys that were easier to care for. The material that traditional teddy bears were made of was not able to be washed through conventional methods. Therefore, a different kind of teddy bear was created. The materials that were used to make the new bear allowed it to be washable. As a result of using synthetic fibers (over natural ones) traditional manufacturers were not able to keep up to the pace of new manufacturers in eastern Asia which were able to produce the toys in a more cost effective way.

1980’s – Present

In the late 1970s / early 1980s artistic teddy bears were born. These bears, created much like traditional teddy bears were each hand made and the name “teddy bear artist” was formed. A teddy bear artist was a person who created artistic teddy bears. The re-birth of traditional teddy bears (in a more artistic form) resulted in older, antique teddy bears to increase in value again. Artistic teddy bears are usually a collector’s item.

A sampling of what is available can be seen at Angie’s Teddy Bear Store.

 

Drawing the Line in Mississippi by Clifford Berryman: This cartoon is believed to have triggered the teddy bear craze in the U.S.

 Clifford Berryman’s cartoon of Roosevelt as a Rough Rider with a bear cub

CREDIT: Berryman, Clifford Kennedy, artist. "Theodore Roosevelt as Rough Rider with Clifford Berryman’s bear."

Between 1902 and 1940. Cartoon Drawings, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.