Ah the teddy bear; a toy that every child has owned at point in their life. The teddy bear phenomenon has been around for many, many decades, dating back to the presidency of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. While the president was on a hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, he had a run-in with a bear that became fodder for political cartoons in newspapers across the country. He was allegedly competing against several other hunters at the time, most of whom had already killed an animal. Roosevelt’s attendants then clubbed an American black bear and tied it to a willow tree, urging Theodore to shoot it. Theodore refused. He would henceforth be nicknamed Teddy.
Morris Michtom, who saw the first political cartoon depicting the bear incident in the Washington Post, decided to create a small soft bear cub and place it in a shop window carrying a sign that read “Teddy’s Bear.” After receiving a positive reception for the creation, he founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co.
Around this period, Germany was creating their own teddy bear (although it wasn’t called “teddy”) which made its first appearance at the Leipzig Toy Fair in March 1903 where it was seen by Hermann Berg, who ordered 3,000 to be shipped to the United States.
The first teddy bears where meant to look like real bears. Gradually, they morphed into a more cartoonish design and encompassed a variety of different types of bears like pandas and polar bears.
Another thing that has changed over time are the materials used to build them. Back in the day, they’d be assembled using wood with leather coverings as well as cotter pins that would attach separately to create the arms and legs. Also, polyester stuffing has replaced the wood shavings used in the first teddy bears to make them more durable and long-lasting.
In 1984, the world’s first Teddy Bear Museum opened in England, housing a collection of antique teddy bears and other vintage pieces. Sadly, it closed in 2006. There are other museums though, like the Jeju Teddy bear museum in South Korea or the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.
The first teddy bear was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1963, and is currently on view to the public in the American Presidency gallery at the National Museum of American History.
Teddy bears will likely remain popular among children, but let’s make sure they never become popular among adults. That’s just weird.