Baby, let me be your lovin teddy bear,
Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere,
Oh, let me be your teddy bear. . . . Elvis Presley, with the help of others, 1957
A poor sense of timing has followed me relentlessly all the years of my life. It is a particular talent that is neither divinely inherited nor appreciated. Even though I am punctual to a fault, my connection with the universe never ceases to put me "in the know" slightly after the fact. (I probably didnt even know I was born until after it happened! And they say the father is the last to know!) This sense or perhaps lack thereof, explains my inspiration to write an article about the teddy bear 101 years after it burst upon the American cultural scene. And burst it did, when our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, visited the southern United States back in November, 1902 to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana.
As the story goes and it is a rather tall one, during a bear hunting excursion one of Roosevelts companions captured a cub, tied it to a tree and invited the President to finish it off. The big game President couldnt bring himself to kill the little guy. One witness to the incident was Clifford Berryman, who worked for the Washington Post. He captured the scene with a cartoon called: "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." It depicted Roosevelts dual accomplishments on the trip; negotiating border disputes and protecting wild life. The cartoon was published in newspapers across the country and the story caught on quickly. Soon Teddys Bear, as it came to be known by its first manufacturers, gained popularity with Americans of all ages and was featured in all cartoons depicting the president.
The small cub inspired Russian immigrants, Morris and Rose Michtom to create a bear in honor of the President's noble actions. Well aware of the marketability of a good and well-known deed, they displayed two toy bears in the window of their novelty store in Brooklyn, New York. Rose, who used plush stuffed excelsior and shoe buttons for eyes, made both. When they sold quickly, Michtom sent Roosevelt a bear and received permission from the President himself to call them Teddys Bear. They were a tremendous success. As demand for them increased, Michtom, with the help of a wholesale firm called Butler Brothers, founded the first bear manufacturing company in the United States, The Ideal Novelty and Toy Corporation.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, or actually across the Atlantic Ocean in Giengen, Germany, the Steiff Company, which had been making toys since 1880, was producing its jointed bear. Richard Steiff, nephew of the companys owner and former art student, had the idea to make a toy bear standing upright after seeing performing bears at a touring American circus. He often visited the Stuttgart Zoo to sketch bears and cubs for the new design. In 1902, the same year the Michtoms made Teddys Bear, the Steiff firm developed a prototype of a toy based on Richards drawings. Though both the Mictoms and the Steiffs were working on bear toys simultaneously, neither knew about the others creation. In truth, they were different; the Michtoms creation resembled the wide eyed cub in Berrymans cartoon, while the Steiff bear, with its humped back and long snout, looked more like a real cub.
In March 1903 at the Leipzig Toy Fair, the Steiff Company introduced its jointed bear. Europeans ignored it, but an American toy buyer who was aware of the growing popularity of Teddys Bears in The United States, ordered 3,000. By the end of the year this order rose to 12,000. While other stories have been told regarding the origins of this wonderful toy, the simultaneous births in Brooklyn and Germany are the best substantiated. Teddy bear without the 's' first appeared in the October 1906 issue of Playthings Magazine. It soon became the accepted term. Steiff went on to become the crème de la crème of the teddy bear business, a status reflected in their steep prices today.