THE TRUE STORY OF TEDDY’S BEAR

Classic Teddy Bear
Classic 1909 Steiff Teddy Bear

If you collect teddy bears, the accepted history of the humble bear may surprise you. You may think they've been around forever, but in fact, teddy is younger than the electric light.

Most people have grown up to be rather fond of little teddy bears. Some may even still treasure their little bear in adulthood. Others take up their passion to collect teddy bears as a hobby.

It you find yourself drawn towards teddy bear collecting, the accepted history of the teddy bear may surprise you. You may think that teddy bears have been around forever, but the fact is that teddy is younger than the electric light, the motor car and the telephone.

On 14th November 1902, President Theodore Teddy Roosevelt took part in a bear hunt in Mississippi. Unable to hunt a bear, his guide Holt Collier set off to track a large female bear to a water hole, where he brutally clubbed it over the head and tied it to a tree. Roosevelt was then summoned to shoot the bear and claim his quarry.

The story has it that the president was shocked by the bound, dazed and bleeding bear, saying, “Spare the bear. I will not shoot a tethered animal.” He refused his quarry and forbade anyone else from claiming it.

Reporters with the hunting party spread the news of Roosevelt’s action nationwide. Among those inspired by the story was political cartoonist Clifford Berryman. Berryman drew a cartoon of the incident and featured the tethered bear sitting innocently with huge, scared eyes. The cartoon was captioned: “Drawing the Line in Mississippi”, appeared in newspapers all over the US.

For the remainder of his political career, the teddy bear became his mascot and Berryman continued to draw the bear in his cartoons. Some even go as far as saying that the story of the teddy bear may have played a significant role in Roosevelt’s re-election in 1905, but who knows.

Thanks to Roosevelt’s teddy bear adventure and Berryman’s bear caricatures, New York toy storeowners Morris and Rose Michtom began designing a new version of toy bears. Previously, toy bears were typically on all fours with features similar to real bears. The Michtoms’s new bear was seated, sweet and cuddly, filled with soft stuffing and cute button eyes. That is not to say that seated or more ‘cartoonish’ bear toys hadn’t existed before that – they had, and Victorian era photos of the decades prior to the incident are certainly proof – but the incident certainly made them much more popular.

The Michtoms made two of the bears and they were placed in the store’s window. They become an instant success. Legend has is that the Michtoms then asked President Roosevelt for permission to call the bears Teddy’s Bears, and the teddy bear was born.

The first teddy bears were soon being manufactured by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which changed its name to Ideal Toy Company in 1938. Other early teddy bears were produced by Richard Steiff, who designed a string-jointed bear, based on the bears he saw at the Stuttgart Zoo.

Steiff is now one of the most desirable bears for collectors.

If you are thinking of collecting teddy bears, the first generation Teddy’s Bears are worth their weight in gold, as too are the early Steiffs.

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