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National Teddy Bear Day

Updated on September 12, 2018
Vicki Martin Wood profile image

Vicki Wood is a self-employed mother of four grown children living in Mid-Missouri. She was formerly a nurse and is getting back to writing.

On a recent trip to Build A Bear Workshop for my grandson’s birthday, I discovered that Saturday, September 8th is National Teddy Bear Day. I would bet that not many people of recent generations have a clue about the unique history of the favorite cuddly toy and its political ties. Well let’s face it, the grandkids don’t care. As long as it’s soft and furry, that’s all that matters. But let’s thank goodness that they were created friendly looking, not as their history points toward.

It all started on a bear hunting trip in Onward, Mississippi one November day in 1902. President Theodore Roosevelt was invited to go on this expedition by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino.

The President was the only member of the group that had not located a single bear. So to avoid embarrassment Governor Longino instructed his assistants to tie a captured black bear to a willow tree to offer up to President Roosevelt. Despite their well-intentioned gift, the president refused to shoot the bear citing it as unsportsmanlike. Sounds a little insulting, right? News spread quickly through articles about the great game hunter who refused to shoot the bear.

One wonders how the cute and innocent teddy bear came about from this story? A cartoonist by the name of Clifford Berryman read the articles about what went down on the Mississippi hunting trip and decided to draw a lighthearted picture of the trip with a cute and innocent cartoon bear being led to a tree, with President Roosevelt holding up his hand signaling “no thank you”

Brooklyn, New York candy shop owners Morris and Rose Michtom saw Berryman’s cartoon that was featured in the Washington Post. They also happened to be stuffed animal makers. So they create a stuffed bear toy, and decided to call it the “Teddy Bear”. They dedicated it to President Theodore Roosevelt and gained permission to name it after the president’s nickname Teddy. The Michtom’s mass produced the stuffed bear and launched a toy company off of that initial creation.

Many years later a former Payless Shoe Company president started a teddy bear company in St. Louis with the backing of a wealthy friend who produced cruise ships. This venture grew into a multimillion dollar business. Maxine Clark opened the first Build A Bear Workshop in the suburban Galleria Mall in 1997. It was an instant hit. Nobody had ever allowed customers to make their own customized bear creation. Other national brand stuffed bears created in Missouri are Stearnsy Bears and Teddy Bear Toy Factory.

Build A Bear founder Maxine Clark
Build A Bear founder Maxine Clark

With the prevalence of stuffed bear factories in Missouri, are we as citizens in dire need of comforting? There is one instance that the teddy bear is used in a very weird way in Dallas County, Missouri. The sheriff there painted a jail cell pink and stenciled blue teddy bears on the walls. His take on it was that if the prisoners were going to act like children he would decorate their stay as a daycare. He figured this would calm down their big tough guy attitudes. Used in a more traditional way, police, fire, and ambulance departments everywhere embrace the teddy bear as an offering to a suffering child in a time of trauma. The stuffed animals are used to celebrate our favorite sports teams, clothing lines, and brands. If you send flowers, a teddy bear is always offered as an additional option to the arrangement.

Saturday bears a significant history to celebrate in the teddy bear, however you celebrate it, no pun intended.

© 2018 Vicki Wood


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