Teddy Bear

Teddy bears became popular at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to their introduction, most softTOYS for children were rag DOLLS, usually given to both boys and girls to encourage nurturing instincts. The first stuffed animal toys were made in Germany in the latter part of the nineteenth century, generally consisting of felt-covered animals mounted on wheels. As rigid pull toys rather than soft, huggable playthings, this type of stuffed toy virtually disappeared as the teddy bear craze took hold.

The first teddy bears appeared in 1902. According to popular history, American president Theodore Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902 as a break from his ongoing efforts to resolve a border dispute between that state and Louisiana. Most versions of the story agree that "Teddy" refused to shoot a bear that was captured for him. Roosevelt had already achieved fame as both an enthusiastic sportsman and conservationist. The episode inspired a cartoon by Clifford Berryman, entitled "Drawing the Line at Mississippi," published in the Washington Post. Berryman continued to draw the scene (with different versions of the trapped bear) for several years after.

Shortly after the publication of the first cartoon, Russian immigrant Morris Michtom displayed a plush bear sewn by his wife Rose in the window of their Brooklyn novelty and stationery store with the label "Teddy's Bear." The couple wrote to President Roosevelt asking for permission to use his name, which was readily granted. The toy was immediately successful, leading to the establishment of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company by the Michtoms in 1903.

At the same time, a German company was also developing designs for a string-jointed bear. Margarete Steiff first began making stuffed felt toy animals in 1880, expanding her business in 1893. In 1902 her nephew Richard Steiff, who was an artist, began working on a plush bear prototype. Steiff based his designs on drawings made at the local zoo. The final design was successfully distributed through wholesalers George Borgfeldt and Company of New York in early 1903.

In 1906 the American toy trade journal Playthings shortened "Teddy's Bear" to "teddy bear," and the phrase was quickly adopted by manufacturers. By 1913, several American companies were producing teddy bears, competing with German manufacturers. During World War I, German imports to Great Britain were banned, leading to the creation of the British stuffed toy industry, spurred on by the success of the teddy bear. France entered the market immediately following the war.

The teddy bear became one of the most popular children's toys, as well as the center of a thriving collectibles market fueled primarily by adults. Companies such as the American Vermont Teddy Bear Company or Margarete Steiff GmbH (still in business at the beginning of the twenty-first century) began creating character bears specifically aimed at adult collectors. In addition, stuffed toys in general became enormously popular with both children and adults, as confirmed by the Beanie Baby craze in the 1990s.

Teddy bears form part of the collections of the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, in London, England, and the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, the finest publicly held collections of toys in the world.

See also: Indoor Games; Play.


Cockrill, Pauline. 1993. The Teddy Bear Encyclopedia. London: Dorling Kindersley.