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Teddy Bears: From a President to a Phenomenon

By Edited Sep 29, 2016 0 0

Rory teddy bear (image by Tarquin)

Action figures are found mostly within the toy boxes of boys, and dolls are almost universally given togirls alone, but the teddy bear is a favorite toy for boys and girls alike. This stuffed animal actually has an interesting history, and its popularity all began with a hunting trip during which one of the most famous presidents in U.S. history showed mercy to a captive animal.

Teddy's Heart for a Cub

During a bear-hunting trip in the state of Mississippi during his first term of office, President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was disappointed because the hours spent in the wilderness produced no game for killing and capture. In order that the president might not go back to Washington empty-handed, one of the other men on the expedition captured a bear and presented it to Roosevelt so that he might shoot it. The president, however, refused, thinking it unfair to kill a captive creature.

This incident would have gone all but unnoticed had it not been for a political cartoonist named Clifford Berryman. Berryman decided to craft a political cartoon commemorating the event, and the cartoon found wide circulation in the United States. The innocent cartoon would be the start of something big for a few smart entrepreneurs.

The Teddy Bear Is Made

Seizing upon the popularity of the president and the political cartoon, a couple in New York City crafted a stuffed bear in 1902 to honor Roosevelt and sold it in the window of their store as Teddy's Bear. The toy was an instant hit and the Michtoms, the couple who had introduced the stuffed bear, founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which was the first toy company to produce teddy bears for sale in the United States.

Meanwhile in Germany, one Margarete Steiff was the owner of a company that produced stuffed animals. The same year that the Michtoms introduced Teddy's Bear, Margarete agreed to create a stuffed bear that was based on the drawings of bear cubs that her nephew Richard often produced. Though the company developed their animal independently, the craze for Teddy's Bear in the United States produced a high demand for the product. Thousands of them would be shipped to the United States for sale.

A Cultural Phenomenon

The famous teddy bear cartoon that started the craze
The market flooded with product, soon the stuffed bears were being sold everywhere under the simple name "teddy bear." Theodore Roosevelt, the man for whom the toy was named, adopted it as his mascot in his reelection campaign. Dozens of stuffed-bear-producing companies were started in the United States.

Yet the popularity of the bear was not limited to North America. In England, A.A. Milne wrote stories based on the teddy bear that belonged to his son Christopher Robin, which were later popularized by the Walt Disney company. Winnie the Pooh, Christopher's bear, continues to be an important part of modern culture. Later on, the Care Bears appeared on the market from the American Greetings Card Company, and cartoons and movies featuring these characters followed. Thousands of teddy bears continue to be introduced each year in all shapes and sizes. It is even possible to send a teddy bear to a loved one or create a bear according to one's own specifications in a Build-a-Bear Workshop outlet or other similar store. Teddy Bears are even adult collectibles now, with limited edition bears and other special releases produced each year.


Despite its humble beginnings a century ago, teddy bears continue to be an important part of our society. Who would have thought that an unsuccessful hunting expedition would spark a craze that has no signs of ever ending?



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