The History of the Teddy Bear

Like many of the best products in life, teddy bears have a rich history behind them which is not only interesting, but in places heart warming. Let’s delve in to the history books today to find out more about the history of the teddy bear, and what has become a lifelong companion for millions of people.

The name ‘teddy’ was only given to soft toy bears in 1902, after the 26th President of the United States Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt was branded with the name after a hunting trip. The hunting trip involved the hunting of the black bear, and after a rigorous campaign which ended in the cornering of the bear, Theodore Roosevelt refused to finish the bear off himself but requested that it be put out of its misery as a direct result of its trapping. Due to this, political journalists of the time sought to make fun of Theodore’s sporting side and a political cartoon was created by The Washington Post writer Clifford Berryman featuring Roosevelt and the bear. As time went on, newer editions of the cartoon saw the bear become smaller and cuter, which was a far cry from what the public saw in a bear at the time.

Due to the cartoons popularity, stuffed toy makers Morris and Rose Michtom were inspired. They set out to create a toy which replicated the cute animal depicted in Berryman’s cartoon and towards the middle of 1902 they had their finished product; a small stuffed bear cub named “Teddy’s Bear”. Morris and Rose were so happy with their finished product that prior to displaying it in their shop window, they sent one to Roosevelt seeking his approval to use his nickname. Once granted, the new stuffed toy went on sale. Although there are no accurate records of sales figures, Teddy’s Bear was successful enough to allow the Michtom family to set up a new business, Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, in 1907.

Around the same time Teddy’s Bear was being created by the Michtom family, over in Germany Richard Steiff, a German inventor, was producing his very own stuffed bear. This debuted at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, slightly after Teddy’s Bear went on sale in the US. There is no information to suggest that Michtom and Steiff were communicating or that either of them had a knowledge of each other’s products at the time. Therefore, both are credited with producing what we know as the modern teddy bear of today. Whereas the Michtom families bear was popular in their local surrounding areas, Steiff’s bear caught the attention of Hermann Berg, a successful and influential product buyer for Borgfeldt & Company in New York. Berg ordered 3000 bears from Steiff to be shipped to the US. Sadly, there are no records to suggest that the bears ever made it, despite Steiff records showing that the bears were produced. This has lead to theories that the shipment was shipwrecked, so if you or anybody you know has a degraded, very old Steiff bear locked away, you could re-write history.

By 1907 when the Michtom family set up Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, other soft toy makers had joined in on the teddy bear craze. The product quickly became symbolic and it is suggested that over 50,000 teddy bears were sold between 1907 and 1910.

Throughout history, the teddy bear has appealed to individuals, and several toy companies have been set up which have stood the test of time and lasted for over 50 years. These include Steiff, Gund, Teddy-Hermann and Merrythought.  Early editions of teddy bears from these companies can at auction be seen being sold for thousands of pounds, as they represent a piece of symbolic history. The most expensive vintage bears are from Steiff, and pre-war bears are now incredibly rare and are snapped up by collectors.

The modern teddy bear is very different to the soft toys produced in the early 1900′s, although they are similar in appearance. Early teddy bears were made to look like real bears; they had fat faces and long snouts. Modern teddy bears are designed in such a way that makes them more approachable and cuter. Due to industry regulations and health and safety, there are now strict guidelines in place as to how teddy bears can be made which are suitable for children. These guidelines cover materials and construction. For example, early teddy bears were covered in tawny mohair fur which was treated to make it appear golden brown. Now, teddy bears are most commonly made out of velour, denim, cotton, satin and canvas, as these are more sustainable.

In 2006, the stuffed plush toy retail market was valued at over £900 million, thanks in large part to mass-produced bears which are made as toys for children.

Currently, the biggest teddy bear producers in the world are Steiff, Gund, Teddy-Hermann, Keel Toys, Charlie Bear, Aurora World, Ty, Carte Blanche and Build a Bear. New companies, such as Jellycat established in London, cater towards a more niche market where buyers are looking for stuffed plush toys which could hardly be described as ‘traditional’ in design.

In 1984, the world’s first teddy bear museum was set up in Petersfield, Hampshire, England. Sadly, this was closed in 2006 due to a lack of visitors, and all bears featured in the museum were sold at auction.

Today, teddy bears and other stuffed plush toys sell well, although during 2012 there was a steep decline in sales in the US; plush toys accounted for less than 10 percent of the U.S. toy market in 2012, with a 12.6 percent decline in 2012. This decline has been attributed to national economic difficulties, with analysts predicting some growth in 2013.

The teddy bear has been a luxury all young children have craved for over 100 years. Since the first teddy bears were produced by the Michtom family and Steiff in the early 1900′s, it is estimated that more than 50 million teddy bears have been produced worldwide.

                                                     Image Source: Wikipedia

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