Teddy Bear History
Birth of the Teddy Bear
Everyone has seen a teddy bear. They are in movies, books, television, and folklore. Trauma units uses teddy bears to try and cheer up injured children. Even adults give each other teddy bears to show love and affection. The teddy bear is such a large icon in our society that you might think that it has a history that goes back dozens of centuries. However, prior to the 20th century, the teddy bear was practically unknown. The story behind the teddy bear is quite interesting.
It all started when President Theodore Roosevelt went on a trip to Mississippi to negotiate a border dispute between that state and Louisiana. Roosevelt liked to hunt and some of his hosts decided to take him hunting. There just wasn't any game that day, but finally someone scouted a bear, caught it, and tethered it to a tree. Roosevelt was led to the bear and given a chance to shoot it. However, Roosevelt felt that there was no sport in shooting a helpless animal.
Cartoon Teddy Bear
The story of President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a tethered bear made for some interesting political gossip. Cliffored Berryman drew a political cartoon of the event and it was published in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. The cartoon was very popular and was reprinted in many other newspapers. A couple of store owners liked the cartoon so much that they made a doll similar to bear in the cartoon, then put the doll in the window of their candy store (which also sold toys). Prior to this, most bear dolls were made to look fierce. This bear looked cute and cuddly.
This bear became such a hit with the public, that they decided to start a toy factory that made these teddy bears. An American entrepreneur visiting Europe saw an opportunity to buy several thousand toy bears and bring them to America to be sold as Teddy Bears.
The teddy bear craze took off. In just a few years, all kinds of teddy bears were being made. Over a dozen American toy companies were making teddy bears. German toy companies were also making toy teddy bears and exporting them to America. President Theodore Roosevelt used the teddy bear as a mascot in his re-election campaign. Within a couple of decades, multiple stories were written involving cute little bears, including the Winnie the Pooh books.
Modern Teddy Bears
Teddy bear production continued to grow. World War I stopped foreign imports and allowed the growth of several more American companies that made teddy bears. The great depression put several companies out of business and forced the rest to adopt automation. Specialized teddy bears were also produced, including teddy bears that could roll over, dance, walk, play musical instruments, and perform minor acrobatics.
After the second world war, mass production and cheap imports put most of the American teddy bear companies out of business. Synthetic fibers, foam stuffing, and plastic eyes lowered the cost of teddy bears making them very common and inexpensive.
Classic and Future Teddy Bears
There are now antique teddy bears sold at auction. One teddy bear called "Teddy Girl", made by Steiff, was sold for over $170,000. By the end of the 20th century, collectors spent over $400 million dollars on teddy bears.
In a possible glimpse into the future, there was a movie called AI where a bionic teddy bear is the lead character's best friend and protector. As artificial intelligence programs improve and computers get better, I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of the 21st century that we begin to see standardize toys that not only entertain children, but also have the ability to guide, nurture, protect them, or call for help. One of these models will certainly be a teddy bear.
This brings me to an interesting prediction. In the far future, President Theodore Roosevelt's longest and greatest legacy may be a cuddly little android that protects and comforts children. Long live the teddy bear.