Stuffed with soft, white cotton and covered with smooth, soft fur the Teddy Bear is an enduring stuffed animal loved by children all over the world. When the Teddy Bear was invented in the 1900’s, its popularity soared and turned its inventors from sole proprietors of a local candy store into one of the largest toy companies in history.
The Teddy Roosevelt Hunting Trip
In November of 1902, United States President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was invited to Mississippi for a bear hunting trip by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. At the time, Mississippi was involved in a heated border dispute with the state of Louisiana related to the ever changing form of the Mississippi River that separates portions of the two states. Governor Longino presumed that by aiming to please President Roosevelt, whom they knew was an avid hunter, Mississippi could gain the good graces of the President who was moderating the border disagreement between the two states.
Unfortunately, during the three-day bear hunting tip, Roosevelt was unable to track and kill a suitable bear. To compensate for Roosevelt’s lack of success, a group of men using hunting dogs, corned and clubbed an American Black Bear and then tied the bear to a willow tree in the forest. Roosevelt was called to the site and told that the bear was safely contained and President Roosevelt could now shoot the bear and earn his sought after “kill”. Deeming the kill unsportsmanlike, Roosevelt promptly refused to shoot the defenseless wounded animal telling the men, “Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal.”
The Teddy Bear Cartoons and Introduction of Teddy’s Bear
The story of Roosevelt’s act of compassion spread throughout the United States and was featured in several Washington Post political cartoons by writer and illustrator Clifford Berryman. The first appearance of Roosevelt and his bear, titled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” (referencing both the boundary dispute and Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot the defenseless animal), appeared in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902. In the earliest appearances, Berryman illustrated the bear as a fierce animal (for instance, the bear had just killed a hunting dog). In later versions, Berryman redrew the bear to make it a cute and cuddly cub. The “Teddy and his bear” cartoon was in instant sensation and was subsequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. The emotionally touching cartoon inspired several toymakers to make replicas of the black bear.
Morris Michtom, who owned a novelty and candy store in Brooklyn, New York, saw the cartoon and was motivated to create a stuffed black bear animal measuring about twelve inches in length. Michtom sent a sample of the stuffed animal to President Roosevelt and asked if he could use his name to market the stuffed bear. Roosevelt agreed and Michtom promptly placed the bear in the windows of his candy store alongside a sign that read “Teddy’s Bear”. Instead of looking fierce and standing on all four paws like previous toy bears, the Michtoms’ bear looked sweet, innocent, and upright (more humanlike), similar to the bear in Berryman’s cartoon.
Demand for the stuffed Teddy Bear was so strong that the Michtoms, with the help of a wholesale firm called Butler Brothers, founded the first teddy bear manufacturer in the United States, the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. Springboarding off of the Teddy Bear’s sensation, Ideal Toy Company would later grow to one of the largest and most successful toy companies in the United States developing and introducing several hit toys including the Howdy Doody wooden doll, the Kerplunk game, the Magic 8-Ball, the Mouse Trap game, Rubik’s Cube, and the infamous Poopin Hoppies toys.
The 1900’s Teddy Bear Craze
By 1906, the Teddy Bear craze was in full swing across the United States. Other American manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and manufactured bears in all colors and all kinds, from Teddy Bears on roller skates to Teddy Bears with electrical lighting eyes. “Teddy Bear,” without the apostrophe and the s, became the accepted term for toy stuffed animal, first appearing in print in the October 1906 issue of Playthings Magazine.
The early teddy bears were made to look like real bears, with extended snouts and small, beady black eyes. Later the Teddy Bears evolved to have larger, softer eyes and foreheads and smaller noses with baby like features that make the stuffed animal more attractive to small children.
Prominent ladies carried their Teddies everywhere and children had their pictures taken with their own personal Teddy Bears. Even President Roosevelt used the Teddy Bear as a mascot in his re-election bid (and won). Seymour Eaton, an educator and a newspaper columnist, wrote a series of children’s books about the adventures of The Roosevelt Bears, and another American, composer J.K. Bratton, wrote “The Teddy Bear Two Step”.
Some extraordinary novelty bears were developed during this period. These include the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which opens its mouth to display large teeth like those of the President, and the 1917 red white and blue Patriotic Bear with electric light bulb eyes.