Teddy Bear History

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt traveled south to negotiate a border dispute between the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. During a break from the negotiations, Roosevelt accepted an invitation to join a hunting expedition in Smedes, Mississippi. After ten days of hunting, Roosevelt failed to spot a single bear. His hosts, hoping to please the President, searched the woods, found a small bear cub, tethered it to a tree outside Roosevelt’s tent, and cried “Bear!” to beckon the president. Roosevelt emerged from his tent, took one look at the frightened cub, and refused to kill such a young animal.

Newspapers reported the event. In the Washington Star, political cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman drew a caricature of Roosevelt with his hand upraised,
refusing to shoot the cud­dly bear cub. The caption read “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” clev­erly referring to the unresolved border dispute.

Inspired, toy store owner Morris Michtom, a thirty-two-year-old Russian immigrant, made a stuffed bear cub and dis­played it alongside the political cartoon in his store window in Brooklyn to generate attention. When customers wanted to buy their own “Teddy’s Bear,” Michtom began making them, founding the Ideal Toy Company.

Meanwhile in Germany, Richard Steiff, a nephew of stuffed toy maker Margarete Steiff, similarly inspired by Berryman’s political cartoon, created his own stuffed bear toy. Launched at the 1903 Leipzig Trade Fair, Steiff’s bears also began selling quickly.

In 1906, guests at a White House wedding reception for Roosevelt’s daughter discovered tables decorated with Steiff bears dressed as hunters and fishermen as a tribute to the President’s love for the outdoors. While mulling over the possible breed of the animals, a wedding guest clev­erly labeled them “Teddy Bears.” In 1907 alone, Steiff produced more than 974,000 Teddy Bears.