bearly beginning: who made the first teddy bear?

                              Roosevelt Bear bares all in his biography

Welcome to the Teddy Bear and Friends Summer Picnic!

We’re so glad you’re here. The resident bears have been practically jumping out of their fur with excitement. We’ve got lots of fun coming your way in the next several weeks — books, food, music, games, and a couple of special guests.

But first things first. We must pay homage to the man who started it all — President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919). You may know that in 1902 he travelled south to settle a boundary dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. When his work was done, he decided to go bear hunting, but wasn’t successful in finding any game.

Members of his party didn’t want to disappoint him, so they chased down a stray cub, roped it and tethered it to a tree. They called the President over, but upon seeing the frightened animal, he absolutely refused to shoot it. A few days later, newspaperman Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon for The Washington Post, depicting the President’s encounter with the wild bear cub. 

This political cartoon soon appeared in newspapers all over the country, as the nation praised Roosevelt’s kindness and compassion. Morris and Rose Michtom, who owned a candy and toy shop in Brooklyn, were inspired by the cartoon to create two soft, stuffed bears, which they displayed in their shop window. They sold right away, and Morris decided to name the new toy "teddy’s bear," after obtaining the President’s permission to use his name. Michtom then founded the Ideal Toy and Novelty Co., which still exists today.

      The Morris Michtom Bear, a reproduction of the first bear produced by the Ideal Toy and Novelty Co., in commemoration of the teddy bear’s 100th birthday

At about the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff designed a stuffed bear based on bears he had seen at the zoo. It was displayed at the 1903 Leipzig Toy Fair, where an American buyer loved them and ordered 3,000 to be shipped back to the states. Steiff is still one of the premier bear manufacturers in the world, and all of its stuffed animals are known for their high quality, impeccable craftsmanship, and ability to retain their value on the secondary market.

                     Richard Steiff 1902 authentic replica

It is uncanny how teddy was born on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time, and how relatively similar the first prototypes look. Though the debate over who actually made the first teddy bear continues today, there has never been any disagreement over teddy’s popularity or the positive effect he has had on his human companions.

The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy, pictures by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2000), is a good introduction to teddy bear history for young readers ages 5 and up. The realistic oil paintings, rendered in earth-tones and bronzes, reflect Roosevelt’s deep love for nature while capturing the spirit of the past. Frankenhuyzen does a beautiful job of depicting Roosevelt and the Michtoms, and his stuffed bears appear warm and huggable without being overly cute. There is no mention of Richard Steiff in this book, as it is a work of historical fiction that solely traces the teddy bear’s American origin. 

        The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy,
        pictures by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2000), 
        ages 5+, 32 pp.

But where are my manners? I’ve been talking all this time and haven’t even offered you something to eat. What’s a picnic without food? Please have a bite, and see you next time!

8 thoughts on “bearly beginning: who made the first teddy bear?

  1. Can’t resist adding a couple of things to your wonderful Teddy history. Roosevelt, in fact, thought the bear incident was much a do over nothing. He hated the nickname Teddy. No friends or family ever called him that. As a child, his nickname was Teedie. As an adult, most people who knew him stuck with TR.


  2. Thanks for the clarification, Linda. That’s very interesting, since he’s gone down in history known as Teddy Roosevelt. Do you know who actually started calling him “Teddy?”


  3. I didn’t know about the Steiff connection. I still have my two cat puppets made by Steiff (“Henrietta” and “Harrietta”) from when I was four years old. Are you familiar with the picture-book The Pirate’s Parrot by Lynn Rossiter McFarland? The parrot of the book is in fact a teddy-bear who inspires the “dreaded giggles of fear.”


  4. All six kids in my family have grown up being comforted by a bear named Teddin. He was named by my oldest brother and he’s one of the original Steiff bears. When I was little and very curious, I got caught just before cutting a hole in Teddin because I wanted to see what he was stuffed with.
    Our Teddin is still alive and well and hole-free, living with the Madame Alexander dolls at my mother’s house. But I still wonder what’s in him. Is it wood shavings?


  5. Oh, I’m swooning at the thought of an original Steiff. And I love the name “Teddin.” Has this bear ever been appraised? Of course, his value as reliable comfort for six kids is inestimable. A very hard working bear, to be sure! (Would love if you would blog about him and procure a photo!)
    I think Teddin is probably stuffed with excelsior, which is a fancy name for wood shavings.


  6. Excelsior. That is a fancy name.
    He was named Teddin because when my brother was just learning to talk, my mother would help him with his winter coat and leggings and say, “Put your arm in,” and “Put your leg in.” He started putting -in on every word. Even when I was born 12 years later, we called my father “Dad-in.”
    When we visit my folks at Christmas, I’ll get a photo of Teddin. He is quite dashing although he has lost most of an ear to a dog named Jebba, plus, one the the felt pads is mostly gone from one of his hands. The missing felt only exposes the fabric underneath, not his shavings. I think Teddin would blush if he knew we were discussing his, um, excelsior.


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