Who made the first teddy bear?
In 1847 in a small river town called Giengen in southern Germany Margarete Steiff was born. Sadly at the age of two Margarete Steiff became confined to a wheel chair through polio but she continued to go to school like any other child.
Later on in life Margarete Steiff took needlework and sewing classes and became so competent she started lessons teaching others the art. Eventually with the money she earned she purchased a sewing machine – the first sewing machine to arrive in Giengen.
With the new machine Margarete immediately started making dresses and by 1879 Margarete Steiff started her own dressmaking business and quickly became a success with high demand for her dresses, coats and other items.
In December 1879 in a magazine called ‘Modewelt’, Margarete Steiff noticed a pattern for a toy elephant – she started to produce these as gifts for her family and close friends. Before long other animals followed such as bears, poodles and donkeys. By 1883 these new toys were added to her price list as a range of felt items.
In 1892 Margarete Steiff decided to sell soft-filled bears for children. Four employees and ten out workers were taken on in 1893 as Margarete Steiff’s business grew with a total turnover of £17,000 pounds (£12,000 from toys). The company continued growing and by 1897 six more people were employed as the company turnover more than doubled to £38,000.
The Steiff Teddy Bear Story
In 1894 Margarete Steiff’s nephew, Richard Steiff, received a full order book after he ran a stand at the famous Leipzig fair. Previously Richard had studied art at school but now helped his aunt with the design and production of the company’s stuffed toy animals.
Later in Germany Richard Steiff went to the Stuttgart Zoo in search of an idea for a new toy. Among the animals he saw there was a troupe of performing bears which gave him an idea. He envisioned a toy bear, which stood upright, and was jointed similar to the way in which dolls were made. By 1902 Richard had sketched some bears and gave the drawings to his aunt. Margarete took her nephew’s drawings and designed a jointed bear based on them with fur made of mohair plush and glass eyes.
The new jointed bears appeared for the first time at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903 soon after the story of Roosevelt’s Teddy’s Bear had appeared but at first, they generated little interest. However, while Richard was packing up his stand at the end of the fair, Hermann Berg, a buyer from the New York firm Geo Borgfeldt & Co approached him stating how he couldn’t find anything new. The jointed toys were produced and upon seeing them Hermann Berg knew they would be a hit. He placed an order for three thousand toys on the very same day.
By 1904 the Steiff bear had become a big American success and the company was awarded various gold medals for the their enterprise and a prestigious Grand Prix Award. In total 12,000 jointed toys were sold by the end of 1904.
The publicity from Roosevelt’s adventure had placed teddy bears in the hearts of all Americans. By 1907 almost a million teddy bears had been made by Steiff and exported to many different countries.
The story of Teddy’s Bear
In November of 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted hunting enthusiast, had been invited to join a bear hunt near the town of Smedes, Mississippi.
When the President had initially proven unsuccessful on this hunt, guide Holt Collier determined to find a suitable quarry for Roosevelt. Tracking a 235-pound bear to a watering hole, Collier stunned the unfortunate bear by clubbing it over the head, and tied it securely to a nearby tree. A messenger was sent to summon the President, but when Roosevelt arrived he was unimpressed by the spectacle of a bound, dazed and bleeding bear.
He had been dismayed by this unfamiliar method of hunting, using packs of dogs to track, flush out and wear down the prey while the hunter need only lie in wait for the animal to be driven to him. This was far from the strenuous physical challenge Roosevelt was accustomed to and fond of. He not only refused to claim the bear himself, but forbade anyone else from doing so as well.
Regrettably, the rarely repeated resolution to the story does not include a happy ending for the bear. Seeing the condition of the injured bear, which had been badly mauled by the dogs, Roosevelt asked that it be put out of its misery and it was killed with a hunting knife.
Reporters with the hunting party soon spread news of Roosevelt’s fair play nationwide. Among those inspired by the story was Washington Post political cartoonist Clifford Berryman, who produced a massively popular cartoon of the incident later nicknamed Berryman’s Bear.
The cartoon, captioned Drawing the Line in Mississippi, showed Roosevelt unable to gun down a small defenceless bear cub. It was featured on the front cover of The Washington Post on November 16, 1902 and emphasises the child-like helplessness of the cub and was designed to convey the political message that such an upstanding President as Roosevelt could not be persuaded to make decisions for the wrong reasons.
The cartoon was printed in all the papers and Roosevelt’s popularity soared as a result of his actions. For the rest of his political career Roosevelt’s mascot was Teddy’s Bear, which Berryman continued to use in all his cartoons and which played a key part in the Presidents successful re-election campaign of 1905.
The making of “Teddy’s Bear”
New York City store owners Morris and Rose Michtom were inspired by the cartoon and can take credit for creating the first Teddy Bear in the United States.
The Michtoms used the Berryman cartoon as a guide to design a pattern of a bear cub and produced two stuffed bears for sale in their candy shop window along with a copy of the cartoon. They called the toy Teddy’s Bear.
It became so popular that within a year of its creation, Mr Michtom had closed the candy store and founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which was, at one time, the largest teddy bear factory in the United States.