History of Teddy Bears


Byran's  Uncle  Benjamen

Uncle Ben 

Uncle Benjamen in his study

rag doll Image courtesy of British Museum

There is evidence that soft toys, including bears, have existed since ancient times. They have been favourites of children from then until now. Until the arrival of the industrial revolution they were hand made, as many are today. The rag doll above is from ancient Egypt and is stuffed with rags and papyrus.

Image courtesy of Planet Wissen

Margarete Steiff

Margarete Steiff was born in Germany in 1847. At the age of two she became crippled with polio. As a result, she used a wheel chair for the rest of her life. In the 1850's she learnt to sew and soon became a proficient seamstress. She and her sister Pauline made and sold clothing from their home.

In 1879 Margarete began to make and sell clothing under her own name. At about the same time, she made and sold some pin cushions in the shape of an elephant. These became very popular, but as soft toys, not pin cushions.

More stuffed toy animals were added to the range and toy sales soon outstripped clothing sales. In 1889 Margarete moved her operation to a purpose built factory. In 1893 the company was officially registered as Margarete Steiff GmBH. The range of soft toys being produced included lions, dogs ,donkeys and bears.

Image courtesy of Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt

President Theadore Roosevelt and Clifford K. Berryman 

In 1902 President Roosevelt was in the state of Mississippi to arbitrate on a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. He took the opportunity while there to go bear hunting. However, no bears were found. So that the President would not be disappointed, a captive bear was tied to a tree and the President invited to shoot it. The President thought this to be most unsporting and refused.

Shortly after, a cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman appeared in the Washington Post depicting this event. The cartoon (above) was named Drawing the Line in Mississippi and proved to be very popular with the American public. The event depicted in the cartoon also increased the popularity of the President.

Mitchtom bearImage courtesy of Smithsonian Museum

Morris and Rose Michtom

In the late 1890's Russian immigrants Morris and Rose Michtom had a small store in Brooklyn, New York that sold candy and various novelty items. Rose stitched together toy animals that were also sold in the store.

When they read about the President refusing to shoot the captive bear and saw Berryman's cartoon, Morris suggested to Rose that she make a bear based on the one in the cartoon.

This she did and they displayed it in their store window as Teddy's Bear together with a copy of the cartoon. Much to their surprise, the bear sold almost immediately and there was strong demand for more.

They wrote to President Roosevelt asking his permission to use his nickname to which he agreed. The bears soon became known as Teddy Bears and became so popular that the Michtoms began mass producing them with the help of a company called Butler Brothers. Soon after,  they established their own company, the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Together the Steiff Company and  the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company have produced millions of teddy bears.

The steiff company is still in business producing teddy bears and other soft toys. The  Ideal Novelty and Toy Company's name was changed to the Ideal Toy Company in 1938 and remained with the Mitcom Family until sold to the CBS Toy Company in1982. 

The image above is of an original 1903 teddy bear that was presented to the Roosevelt family by the Mitchtom family in  1963. In 1964 the Roosevelt family presented the bear to the Smithsonian Museum where it is on  display as part of the President Roosevelt collection.