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A Short History of the Signature Plush "Teddy" Bear Name and the Toy it Inspired

Posted by John Kim on

The teddy bear today is an iconic representation of dolls, toys, and children in general. But how did the bear, out of all the animals in the world, rise to this prominent position?

Many people are familiar with the fact that the teddy bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt (who ironically was said to actually dislike being referred to as “Teddy”). The story of how this happened, however, is often inaccurate and filled with many false details. So what then, is the true story?

 

According to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, it all began when the Roosevelt was invited on a hunting trip in Mississippi:

“…After three days of hunting, other members of the party had spotted bears, but not Roosevelt. Now what? The President's bear hunt would be a failure! The next day, the hunt guides tracked down an old black bear that the dogs had trailed quite a distance and attacked. The guides tied the bear to a willow tree and called for the President. Here was a bear for him to shoot!
But Roosevelt took one look at the old bear and refused to shoot it. He felt doing so would be unsportsmanlike. However, since it was injured and suffering, Roosevelt ordered that the bear be put down to end its pain. Word of this hit newspapers across the country, and political cartoonist Clifford Berryman picked up on the story, drawing a cartoon showing how President Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear while hunting in Mississippi.”

One thing led to another, and after seeing the cartoon, a certain candy shop owner named Morris Michtom gained permission from President “Teddy” Roosevelt to use his name. To be specific, he asked to call some stuffed bears his wife had made “Teddy’s bears.” These bears exploded in popularity, leading Michtom to mass-produce them and eventually form his own toy company.

At the same time, a company known as the Steiff firm in Germany had been manufacturing their own stuffed bears, unaware of the growing bear craze in the United States. An American visitor to Germany ended up loving these bears, and bought all of them while placing orders for many more.

The large amount of bear toys being produced by these companies to meet the demand in the United States helped spread its popularity, and the “Teddy Bear” name eventually became the name for most of these stuffed bears, leading to its common usage as we see today.

 

Today the teddy bear continues to be a popular childhood companion as well as a symbol of love and tenderness. The bear remains ever popular for toy companies, with polar bear plush and panda plush becoming more popular in recent years. While the design of the bears may be changing over the decades, the tenderness and warmth associated with the teddy bear name continues to live on.

 

See where the bear landed on our "Top 5 Animals that Make the Best Plush Buddies" list.

What do you think about the "Teddy Bear" name? Did you grow up with an adorable teddy bear of your own? Let us know in the comments below!


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