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How the teddy bear got his name

How The Teddy Bear Got His Name

In 1902, the famous Steiff Company of Germany invented the great teddy bear that the world has come to love and to cherish.  However, do we know how the Teddy got his name ?

We all know that the teddy bear was invented by Richard Steiff and that originally he was referred to as Petsy (after Meister Petz, an old fashioned term for a bruin).  The name ‘Teddy’ however, came from the United States from Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919), who was known as ‘Teddy’ to his friends. 

Roosevelt as a child suffered from asthma and as a young man, possibly because of his weakened childhood, became a bit of a fitness fanatic.  After studying at Harvard, he spent some time working on a cattle ranch in Dakota.  He soon became a rather dedictaed big-game hunter.  Roosevelt’s great passion for hunting was very well known and indeed, by the time he became President he had even written a number of books on the subject.

In November 1902, (funnily enough the same year the teddy bear was invented by Steiff), Roosevelt travelled to South America to arbitrate a dispute between the states of Louisiana and Mississipi. Of course, whilst there he went on a bear hunting trip.  After days of hunting, Roosevelt still had no kill and so on the 14 November 1902, the hosts of his hunt searched for a bear for him to shoot, as they simply could not let him return home without a trophy.  Eventually they found an old bear which they then tethered up for the President to shoot.  Roosevelt however, refused to shoot the bear.

This incidence was reported by Clifford K. Berryman, who was a cartoonist for the famous Washington Post.  He drew a cartoon of Roosevelt and the bear and called it ‘Drawing the Line in Mississipi’.  This cartoon depicted Roosevelt with his hand raised, refusing to shoot the bear.  Just two days later this cartoon was printed in the Washington Post and it immediately attracted major publicity.  Clifford K. Berryman also drew a portrait of Roosevelt and a small bear, next to this sketch Berryman wrote ‘Teddy Bear Nov. 1902’, so this makes it more than likely that Berryman first came up with the term ‘Teddy’ Bear.  However, no-one is really certain who actually came up with the name Teddy Bear as yet another version of this story is, Morris Michtom and his wife Rose, who ran a novelty store in Brooklyn, New York saw Berryman’s cartoon and, the story goes, made a stuffed bear which they put in their shop window and beside this bear they placed a card which read ‘Teddy’s Bear’.  It is said that almost immediately the bear sold and so did several others that Rose had made.

It is very difficult to know if the Michtoms’ little bear resembled the bears produced by the Steiff Company in Germany as all Michtoms bears seem to have become lost.  However, it seems highly unlikely that the Michtoms Bears were of the same design as those of Steiff or that they were even jointed, let alone jointed like the Steiff bears.  Indeed there is no evidence to substantiate the Michtoms calling their bears ‘Teddy’.  A Brooklyn based company called Butler Brothers bought the right to use Michtoms Bears however, and this collaboration resulted in the start of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company – the very first American teddy bear manufacturer.

Anyway, back to Roosevelt.  The president was extremely quick to recognise the appeal of the teddy bear and so he used him as a mascot for the rest of his political life.  The Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. actually produced some teddy bears to ‘hand out’ during the 1904 presidential Elections.  These bears were only 15 cms tall and had rather large ‘googly’ eyes.

In 1906 the teddy bear became independent of Roosevelt when the term ‘teddy bear’ was used in the American trade journal Playthings.  It was also during this year that the teddy bear craze really took off in the United States.  In 1907, John Bratton wrote the famous ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ (the lyrics were not added until 1930).  This music was often played when Roosevelt entered official functions.

From then on, reports came in from all over the United States reporting that shops could simply not keep up with the enormous demand for these cuddly toys called Teddy Bears.

And the rest as they say – is HISTORY!

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