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Teddy Bears - A Short History

Updated on May 1, 2017
Teddy Bear produced in the factory of J K Farnell in London in 1911
Teddy Bear produced in the factory of J K Farnell in London in 1911 | Source

A Favourite Toy!

Teddy bears are great! What was your favourite toy when you were a child? I bet it was your teddy bear? Many of us had these cuddly soft toys given to us when we were babies, and we cherished them throughout our childhood years.

However battered and moth-eared these teddies became, we still took them to bed with us every night for comfort, packed them in our suitcases when we went on holidays, and took them with us when we eventually left home. Is your old cuddly toy still sitting on your bed now that you are grown up or is it tucked up snugly in a cupboard waiting to be passed on to the next generation?

There are all sorts of teddy bears out there, and if you are looking for one for a special one for a new baby, or a child’s special birthday or Christmas present, or even as a romantic gift or get well present for a loved one or friend, then there is a huge selection to choose from online. They come in all different colours and fabrics and you will find that there are huge teddies, tiny teds, soft plush bears, collectable bears, personalised teddies and even teddy bears that sing!

History of Stuffed Animals

So how long have they been around? Well they have not been around for as long as you may think. There is evidence from Egyptian tombs that that the Ancient Egyptians used stuffed animals in religious rituals, and in the Middle Ages in Europe, stuffed animals were used in the performance of the Mystery Plays.

Stuffed animals as toys started to be produced in homes in the early nineteenth century and were made of cloth and stuffed with straw. The Industrial Revolution brought about the first commercial production of stuffed animal toys, and they were now made in variety of materials, such as cotton and plush. However, we would have to wait until the early years of the twentieth century before the stuffed bears, which we now know as teddies, were invented.

Rory the Teddy Bear
Rory the Teddy Bear | Source

The First Teddy Bears in America

They were invented almost simultaneously in both Germany and the United States. However, it was the United States that would give this iconic stuffed toy it’s name, through the offices of the 26th American president Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt. In 1902 President Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi, but was not able to make a kill. So his generous hosts caught a bear for him and tied it up, so that the President would be able to get a good, clean shot at it that he could not possibly miss.

President Roosevelt, however, flatly refused to shoot at an animal that was tied up. The scene was immortalised in a cartoon in the Washington Post that was drawn by Clifford Berryman. Some weeks later, Morris and Rose Michtom, shopkeepers from Brooklyn, created a stuffed toy that they called ‘Teddy’s Bear’. ‘Teddy’s Bear’ was displayed in their shop window alongside a copy of the Washington Post cartoon. Americans went wild for this new toy, and the Michtoms founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company and went on to make millions of dollars from their teddy bears.

The First Teddy Bears in Germany

Across the Atlantic Ocean in Germany a disabled seamstress called Margarete Steiff created a cuddly stuffed bear in her soft toy factory in 1903 that was destined to become a worldwide best seller. Margarete Steiff was passionate about creating top quality toys for children and her claim was that ‘for children only the best is good enough’.

Margarete had suffered from childhood paralysis, and could not use her legs, and had problems using her right arm. She was determined from the start to be independent, and started working as a seamstress in a converted room in her parent’s house. She was soon able to employ several seamstresses and in 1879 she saw a pattern in a magazine for a small stuffed elephant.

She started making these little stuffed elephants to sell as pin cushions, but they very rapidly became popular as children’s toys. Steiff Manufacture was founded in 1880 and was soon producing a whole menagerie of stuffed animals. The initial cuddly elephant was joined by stuffed camels, pigs, horses, donkeys, monkeys, mice and giraffes. Twenty years later the first Steiff teddy bear joined the menagerie.

This first Steiff teddy bear sported the button in its left ear that was soon to become the Steiff bear trademark, and up until the outbreak of the First World War Steiff sold millions of their stuffed bears in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These very early Steiff bears are now very collectable and fetch good prices at auction, so look out for the classic early Steiff bear shape of long snouts, humped backs, big feet that taper and overlong arms that have curved paws.

Do you still have your old teddy bear?

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Steiff Teddy Bears Today

Nowadays Steiff still produce a very wide selection of their bears, in all different sizes, shapes and colours – but they all still have the trademark Steiff button in the left ear. There are Steiff bears to suit all budgets, but if you are looking to splash out on a very special present, they do create a range of top-end limited edition, collectable teddies. Their very top of the range, incredibly luxurious soft toy, is the Steiff 125 Carat Teddy Bear.

Now this particular Steiff creation will set you back around $25,000 dollars, but for that you get a very handsome stuffed toy made with gold silk mohair woven with gold fibres. This fibre is made from gold yarn that is stitched by hand into the mohair. It takes around twenty hours to produce just one metre of this gold yarn, and the finished product costs about £850 per metre. The Steiff 125 Carat Bear has two sapphires, surrounded by forty rhinestones as eyes, a solid gold nose and the Steiff button in its left ear is also pure gold!

This luxury toy comes with a small stuffed elephant that is made from luxurious wool felt, with a saddle cloth studded with 47 diamonds and tusks that are made from exceedingly rare mammoth ivory. Not surprisingly, this is a very limited edition teddy bear and only 125 have ever been created. You will also have to travel to Germany to collect your very special stuffed animal. The Steiff 125 Carat Bear is a very beautiful and unique teddy bear, but perhaps not suitable as a present for a baby or small child!

Steiff Teddy Bear

Lots of Teddy Bears to Choose From!

There are many other well-known manufacturers. Gund is a famous worldwide brand for stuffed animals and cuddly toys. Gund is one of the oldest toy manufacturers in America, and was founded in Connecticut in 1898 by a German immigrant called Adolph Gund. Gund became one of the first toy manufacturer’s to produce teddy bears in the early 1900’s and Gund now makes a huge range of soft plush stuffed animals. In the United Kingdom, Merrythought has been producing top quality, handmade teddy bears from their factory in Shropshire for over 80 years.

Each Merrythought soft toy is totally unique, and is handmade from the very best materials with fully jointed arms and legs. If you are looking for a personalised teddy bear or one that carries a message, there are now many online services that produce them for all occasions; such as anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, Valentine's day and as get well gifts. You can also choose cuddly toy versions of your favourites from books and films.

Winnie the Pooh must be one of the world’s favourite bears and you can buy a wide range of Winnie the Pooh gifts online. Another world famous character is Paddington, the little bear from Peru who was found on Paddington Station in London. You can buy Paddington Bear stuffed toys on the stall in Paddington Station itself or you can find a vast selection of Paddington toys in the stores or online.

There are many other great teddy bears out there in the stores, and it is so quick and easy to choose them online. Amazon have a huge range to browse through and choose from, so why not look online today and you sill soon find that perfect gift!

Rory Teddy Bear image Tarquin Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported


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    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      She should try to find that Steiff teddy bear Dolores, as an old Steiff bear in good condition could be worth a bit of money! Thanks for reading the hub and leaving a great comment

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      A young friend of mine recently had a baby so I dug around to find an old Teddy bear for the child's entertainment. I guess everyone has a Teddy bear around the house. My sister used to have a beautiful Steiff bear and I coveted that thing. I wonder what happened to it. She should have saved it. Think I'll give her one of those 'whatever happened to the...' calls, haha.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Hi Robert, thanks for reading about teddy bears and leaving such a detailed comment.

    • profile image

      Robert 7 years ago

      The teddy bear is the worlds greatest toy! Created by the Michtom's in 1903 with such a sweet,innocent baby-face the world has never seen before. To this day, 108 years later, no expert or manufacture has duplicated what the Michtom's created in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Glad that you enjoyed reading about teddy bears, Sharon, and thanks for leaving a comment

    • Sharon Douglas profile image

      Sharon Douglas 7 years ago from GA, United States

      excellent hub!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks gracenotes - teddy bears are such a favourite toy for so many people, and it was great fun writing a hub about the history of teddies and the different types of teddy bear

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 7 years ago from North Texas

      What a nice hub about a favorite toy for many. I like teddy bears and so does my dog! I have to keep her away from them.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for reading about teddy bears and leaving a great comment mysterylady89. I am glad that you still have your teddy bears, and I too would love to see one of those Steiff 125 carat bears!

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      An interesting, informative hub. Even at my advanced age, I have several bears, none of any monetary value, but of value to me. I would love to see the Steiff limited edition teddy bears!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Really glad that you enjoyed reading about teddy bears Hello, hello. I don't think that anyone can resist a cute teddy bear face!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      That was a great history lesson about our beloved teddy bear. I love them. There is something about their faces. Wonderful selection you have put together. Thank you for the hard work I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for the compliments on the Hub jayjay40, and am glad that you enjoyed reading all about the history of teddy bears

    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 7 years ago from Bristol England

      What a brilliant hub. Great research and photos, just awesome. Best hub I've read for a long time, well done