THE SKEPTICAL TEDDY BEAR

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 34, 1994 January)


On the 19th January, 1992, Barbara Page, in the Can You Help? column in the Adelaide Sunday Mail, was asked for information on the origins of the teddy bear. She wrote that,

"It started with Morris Michtom and his wife, Rose, Russian emigrants at the turn of the century, who began making stuffed toys in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On November 18, 1902 cartoonist Clifford Berryman had a cartoon In the Washington Evening Star showing President Theodore Rooseveldt refusing to shoot a bear cub. Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and had Rose make a stuffed bear modelled on the sketch.

The first bear was 2ft 6in (0.76m) with shoe buttons for eyes, a stitched mouth with red tongue peeping out and a stitched nose. It was made of highplie fabric, a very stiff little bear.

According to Page, Michtom sent the bear to President Rooseveldt, explaining its origin, and asking permission to call it "Teddy's Bear".

Michtom received was a reply from the President, saying, "I don't think that my name would be worth much in the toy business, but you are welcome to use it."

In 1904 he took "Teddy's Bear" to Butler Bros. in Chicago the biggest toy manufacturers in the country at that time. They began manufacturing the bear in large numbers and on the way made Teddy's face more natural."
 

I was intrigued by this account, for I had previously read a totally different account of the origin of Teddy Bears, published in the Reader's Digest, which stated that the Teddy Bear had been created by Margarete Steiff.

Born in 1847 she contracted polio as a child and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She opened a small dressmaking business in Giengen-on-the Brenz. The business was mildly prosperous, and there was time between orders to entertain local children with stories, mainly about animals.

One day in 1880 she made a pin-cushion in the shape of an elephant. The local children pleaded for more animals, and soon she was making so many toys that it was taking all her spare time. Her brother Fritz took some of these animals to a town fair and as a result demand increased, to the point where by 1886 they were producing 5000 toys a year.

Her nephew Richard, an artist who used to draw bears at the zoo, had joined the business and suggested making a bear. The first bear was taken to the Leipzig Fair in 1903. The bear was not placed on display because they did not think he would be popular. On the last day an American buyer asked if they had anything new, they showed him the bear and he ordered 3,000. The new toy did not catch on immediately.

In 1906 President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, a keen bear hunter, was giving a party in the White House, and a steward looking for a novel table decoration bought a bear. At the party a friend commented that he did not recognize the type of bear and another guest commented that it was "a teddy bear".

It seems that of the two stories the Michtom account is closest to the truth. It appears that Michtom actually ran a stationery and candy shop, not a toy shop, to which they added toys made by his wife.

Apparently, when Michtom saw the Berrymam cartoon he had Rose make a toy bear from plush fabric. This bear was placed on display in his shop window together with the cartoon and a notice identifying the bear as "Teddy's bear." The bear attracted wide attention and people wanted to buy it, so Rose started producing more teddy-bears. It was at this time that Michtom wrote requesting permission to call his bears "teddy bears" and the President agreed.

The accounts regarding Margarete Steiff are essentially correct, except that there is no evidence that the events of 1906, concerning the table decoration, ever took place. It seems that this is merely a myth.

Despite the fact that toy bears, and other stuffed animal toys, were being widely manufactured in the late 19th century, it is interesting that within a space of less than a century there should have evolved two different accounts as to the origins of something as common as the teddy bear.

Given the difference in stories, it makes one wonder what hope we can have of disentangling stories which developed much further back in history, about events which were not as common as teddy bears!



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