The Teddy Bear – America’s Favorite Toy

The most common explanation for the rise in popularity of the teddy bear begins in November 1902, when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt visited the southern U.S. to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. While on the trip, President Roosevelt went bear hunting. Cornered near a water hole, a bear fought with and killed one of the group’s hunting dogs. When President Roosevelt saw what had happened, he ordered his men to humanely put the wounded bear out of its misery. Read more about Roosevelt’s role in the border dispute in American history magazines.

Clifford Berryman, a newspaper cartoonist for the Washington Post newspaper, witnessed the incident and turned it into a cartoon called “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” The cartoon portrayed President Roosevelt’s accomplishments on the trip, negotiating border disputes and protecting wildlife. To Berryman’s surprise, the cartoon was published in newspapers across the country.

Because the bear President Roosevelt and his hunting group encountered wasn’t the helpless animal Berryman portrayed-it was an angry bear that killed a dog-Berryman re-drew the cartoon and the story changed too. Before long, the altered story was a legend-after having poor luck hunting, Roosevelt was given the opportunity to shoot a bear cub that his staff had captured. Of course, Roosevelt refused.

This new version of the hunting trip earned President Roosevelt the respect and admiration of millions of Americans who felt it represented the President’s strong character and sense of fair play. Soon the bear cub, dubbed “Teddy’s bear,” was appearing in all of Berryman’s cartoons featuring the president.

Enter Morris Michtom, a Russian immigrant who owned a small novelty store in Brooklyn. Michtom’s wife stitched several plush toy replicas of the bear, with big heads and eyes, for sale in the family store. When they sold quickly, Michtom sent President Roosevelt a bear and asked his permission to use the President’s name on the bears. Roosevelt agreed. Then Michtom, along with a large wholesaling company, Butler Brothers, began to mass-produce the toy bears. They became an immediate success, and Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co., which still exists today. Another toy bear maker, Margaret Steiff, also helped teddy bear craze. Read more about the mass-producing of teddy bears in retail industry magazines.

Soon the teddy bears were featured in women’s magazines, which offered patterns for fans to make their own bear clothing. The bears even inspired music, including a 1907 song called “Teddy Bear March and Two Step.”

Over the years, the international popularity of the teddy bear has remained steady and it has become the best-selling plush toy of all time. While most mass-produced teddy bears are soft, cuddly, and sold as toys for children, there is also a market for more-carefully constructed bears as objects for collection by adults. Teddy Bear magazines include Teddy Bear Review magazine and Teddy Bear and Friends magazine.

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