History of the Teddy Bear
This is how the teddy bear
came to be!
The Teddy Bear is now so much part of the
teddy bear artists lives that it's hard to believe he was
only invented in 1902, and is named after Theodore 'Teddy'
Roosevelt, the famous hunting President of the USA. For years, the
claim to have made the first Teddy Bear has been disputed between
America and Germany - and in some ways, both
countries made the first Teddy!
The story begins in Germany, in late October 1902, where Richard
Steiff, a toy designer working for the family firm in Giengen,
went to a touring American circus in search of an idea for a
popular new toy. Among the animals he saw there was a troupe of
performing bears, and they sparked off the original idea. The
following day, he put his thoughts down on paper for Margarete
Steiff, his aunt, who had founded the firm in 1880.
Richard saw an opportunity to make a bear toy, standing upright,
and jointed in a similar way to dolls. There had been bear toys
before, of course - often made from real fur! - but these had all
been copies of real bears on all fours. Richard's bear would be
able to walk upright. Margarete Steiff liked the idea, and Richard
set to work on visiting zoos to sketch the bears and come up with
some proper designs.
Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, the other half of the
Teddy Bear story was about to begin. President Roosevelt, visiting
Mississippi to settle a border dispute, decided to go out hunting
for the day. After several hours, he still hadn't bagged anything,
when one of his aides discovered a lost bear cub wandering through
the woods. Catching it, he tied it to a tree, and brought the
President to it - here was his trophy for the day!To
Roosevelt's eternal credit, he couldn't bring himself to shoot the
defenseless cub, and ordered it to be set free. The press pack
following Roosevelt's visit heard about the story, and it inspired
cartoonist Clifford Berryman to draw a cartoon of the incident,
entitled 'Drawing the Line in Mississippi'. This cartoon was
printed in all the papers, and triggered a moment of inspiration
for Brooklyn candy store owner Morris Michtom. Using Berryman's
cartoon as a guide, he quickly worked out a pattern, and, his wife
had soon put together a little jointed toy bear cub, which Morris
put into his shop window with a copy of the cartoon, and a
handwritten notice saying 'Teddy's Bear'. The Bears sold like
wildfire, and within a year, Michtom closed his candy store, and
founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. - still one of the biggest
toy firms in the world over ninety years later.
In Germany, unaware of what was going on in New York, Richard
Steiff completed the designs for his toy bear, and Margarete
quickly ran up a prototype from scraps of mohair cloth. The bear,
christened 'Friend Petz' first appeared in public at the 1903
Spring Toy Fair at Leipzig, but - to Richard's disappointment,
nobody seemed interested. Legend has it that it was only as
Richard was packing away the stand at the end of the fair, that an
American toy buyer came up to him, seized the bear, and ordered
3000 on the spot. And so the Teddy Bear was born, and sent on his
way to international success.
Within a few years of their invention, Teddy Bear-mania had swept
the world. Roosevelt adopted the bear cub as his mascot for a
successful re-election campaign, and Steiff redesigned their bears
to create a more appealing face which was to influence all other
Teddy Bears for the next fifty years. While American firms mainly
supplied their home market, the German firms - at first Steiff,
and later competitors such as Hermann and Bing, exported bears
across Europe. Only with the First World War did the Teddy Bear
industries of other countries start to make a mark.
Although some Teddies had been made in Britain from around 1910,
large-scale bear manufacture only began around 1915. Among the
first firms involved were J.K. Farnell, The Deans Rag Book Co, and
H.G. Stone & Co (who sold their bears under the trade name
'Chiltern Toys'. English bears tended to be softer in look and
feel than their German cousins, and were a major influence
throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Farnell bears are generally
acknowledged to be the English equivalent of Steiff, but many
other companies, including Deans, Chiltern, Chad Valley Co. and
Merrythought (founded in 1930), made beautiful Teddies.
World War Two brought a halt to bear production across Europe.
When things gradually returned to normal, many new Teddy designs
appeared alongside the traditional jointed bears. One of the most
influential of these new bears was designed by Wendy Boston.
Seeing the rapid spread of washing machines, she created an
unjointed, fully washable bear - a design which was soon copied by
all the other manufacturers. The Wendy Boston design influenced
most of the bears made throughout the 1960s and '70s - and its
shape even affected the look of jointed bears.
From the mid-1970s onwards, more and more adults began collecting
Teddy Bears. At first, they were happy with the modern designs,
but as the illustrious history of the Teddy Bear became clear,
some people began to look for older bears with traditional
designs. As manufacturers realized the interest in old bears, they
began to aim some of their new products at collectors, rather than
children. Steiff produced their first limited edition replica
bears in the early 1980s, and in 1984, we opened the world's first
bear Museum in England. Since then, a new craze of bear collecting
has swept the globe - full circle to the Teddy-mania of the early
teddy bear artists
hope you enjoyed this little bit of history!
Click here to go to our gallery of
teddy bear artists!