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The Teddy Bear

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Roosevelt: Drawing the line in Mississippi
Clifford K. Berryman (1902):
"Drawing the line in Mississippi"

On a hunt, president Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt came across a lone cub he didn't want to shoot. Thanks to a cartoonist, the little episode became known nation-wide. Then someone in the toy business got what turned out to be one truly great idea: He asked Roosevelt for permission to use his (albeit standard) nickname on a toy bear, got it - and the rest is history.

There are some slightly different versions of this story. In one (the correct one), the bear that got to live wasn't a cub but an adult that was tied to a tree. In another (less than true), the toy bears were a joke by the staff at the hotel were the hunters slept. In yet another, the bears were introduced at the wedding of Roosevelt's daughter.

Never mind those urban legends, the hunting episode still appears to have quite little to do with the birth of the Teddy Bear.

Still, both versions (cub and adult) appear to have some truth in them. Late in 1900 or early in 1901, Roosevelt (vice president at the time) captured a cub and gave it to the Bronx Zoo:

About six months ago, when Vice President Roosevelt presented the Bronx Park Zoo with a tiny black bear that he had caught alive on his last mountain-lion hunt, the little fellow was a very well behaved youngster, very shy, afraid that everything would eat him, much afraid of the other bears, more afraid of Keeper Hoey, and most of all afraid of the crowds that surrounded the bears' den and ogled him and pointed him out as the "real thing bear." [...]
Since those days, "Teddy Roosevelt," as the bear is called, has grown into quite a big boy.

New York Times, July 21, 1901

The famous episode took place in 1902. President Roosevelt was in Mississippi, trying to settle some border people didn't agree about. During a hunt, he refused to shoot a bear. (It appears the version with the adult bear tied to a tree is the correct one, but that is not the main topic here.) Anyway, cartoonist Clifford Berryman got the opportunity to make the cartoon above, with the clever headline "Drawing the line in Mississippi". The cartoon was published in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902. (Some sources mention the Washington Star, which is wrong - Berryman joined the Star in 1907.) Several sources claim the original cartoon featured an adult bear that was later modified into a cub for increased cuteness.

Teddy Roosevelt - cub-cartoons

None of these bears were immortalized as toys. At least not the "Teddy Bear". What they did was to firmly associate Roosevelt with bears, especially since Berryman kept the cub as a presidential sidekick in his cartoons.

In 1905, Seymour Campbell Eaton (using the pen-name Paul Piper in the newspaper) began writing (in verse) about two bears from Colorado, The Roosevelt Bears. They got their names, Teddy--B and Teddy--G (for "black" and "grey", and always with "--"), from stuff left by hunters - one can easily imagine who. In January 1906, the New York Times began publishing their first adventure, the voyage from Colorado to New York, in the sunday supplement, with nice illustrations by V. Floyd Campbell. (Compare the hat at the bears' feet with the one carried by Teddy in several of the cartoos above - a memory of his time as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American war of 1898.)

The Roosevelt Bears

The "Teddy" part is a name they found
On hat and tree and leggings round,
On belt and boot, and plates of tin,
And scraps of paper and biscuits thin,
And other things that hunters drop
When they chase a bear to a mountain top.

The Roosevelt Bears became immensely popular. It was syndicated in 20 newspapers and ran for 29 weeks.

That very year, two real bear cubs arrived at the Bronx Zoo.

The Roosevelt Bears arrive at the Bronx Zoo, NYT 1906-06-01
The New York Times June 1, 1906

Two cubs being more than twice as cute as a single one, from Colorado or not, they became as popular as their namesakes. It didn't take long for people to buy or make toy bears in pairs, their names being obvious.

Many of the girls and women here [Asbury Park, a popular resort in New Jersey] started a new fad to-night. More than twenty of them were on the boardwalk, carrying miniature bears made of "ice wool," fuzzy, and as white as snow. [...]
Two women carrying small woolly bears met each other on the boardwalk last night, and with a laugh stood their polar pets face to face.
"Allow me to present Teddy B," said the first, bowing with mock politeness.
"Happy to meet you, I'm sure," replied the other, bowing in return. "This is Teddy G."
Then they both laughed. Thus started the use of "The Roosevelt Bears" as a name for all the white pets, large and small.

New York Times, July 14, 1906

Though the toy business apparently didn't come up with the idea, they soon supplied the market with what it desired - possibly naming the popular Steiff jointed bears (and similar designs, which appear to be the technical definition of a Teddy Bear) after the famous Roosevelt Bears.

After the two little bears - real live bears - arrived at the Zoological Park in Bronx and attracted such crowds of children to see them, some shrewd dealer in toys saw possibilities in the bear business. He had models made of Teddy-B and Teddy-G and sent them to Germany with an order for two or three thousand like them. From the moment the bears arrived here they sold like hotcakes. Now every steamer from Germany is bringing in fresh consignements of Roosevelt Bears, not only for the originator of the toy bears, but for others who have followed their example.

New York Times, October 13, 1906

The Michtoms & Ideal Toy Company

Teddy bear of the Smithsonian
Original (?) Ideal Toy Teddy Bear, Smithsonian.

According to innumeral sources, the Teddy Bear was created in 1902 or 1903, by Rose and Morris Michtom of Brooklyn, New York, an enterprise that eventually grew into Ideal Novelty and Toy Company/Ideal Toy Company. But the supposedly original Ideal bear (pictured above) was presented as a gift in 1963 by Benjamin Michtom to Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy's son, who in turn gave it to the Smitshonian. If it was indeed made in 1902-03, it wasn't marketed as a "Teddy Bear" at the time. The story of Mr. Michtom asking for Theodore's permission to use his name on the bear in 1902 simply doesn't fit in with the facts. As noted above, the jointed design was created by the Steiffs in about 1902 (it first appeared in a Leipzig fair in 1903), and the term "Teddy Bear" wasn't established until the fall of 1906. It thus appears the Michtoms neither came up with the design nor the name. Rather, they jumped on the bandwagon like many other manufacturers and importers - the claim that they created it is inaccurate.

Another piece of unconfirmed information is that the republicans used bears as an inofficial symbol during the elections of 1904. If so, they would have far more to do with the Berryman cartoons than any toys. That the song The Teddy Bears' Picnic was used in 1904 is definitely false, since neither the music nor the lyrics had been written by then.

The speaker rapped: "Attention, now! Stand still, each lad and maid!
Those 'Teddy Bears' are one year old - of them we're not afraid!"
By this time they had reached the stand, the Captain now drew nigh.
He laid one hand upon his heart and heaved a dreadful sigh.

Then spake the bear, "Oh, ladies fair, think not we're come to stay.
You have it best, for you can rest until we've had our day.
The fad will die [he winked his eye] with Teddy R., no doubt,
The moment he leaves Washington we bears are down and out.

New York Times, December 16, 1906

The poem The Passing of the Doll describes the conflict between the dolls and the oh-so-popular bears. As you can see, it manages to establish the age of the bears as well as a (somewhat irrelevant) connection with Teddy R.

Plush bear from Ideal Novelty Company.

The bear above is dated to "circa 1903". Since it's obviously Teddy--B, it cannot be earlier than 1906 (providing the clothes are original).

The Roosevelt Bears in Chicago
A sample from February 25, 1906:
The Roosevelt Bears in Chicago


The New York Times:
  July 21, 1901 - The Teddy-cub
  January 26, 1906 - Paw signature
  February 1, 1906 - Two live bears
  February 25, 1906 - The Chicago episode
  July 14, 1906 - "The new fad"
  October 13, 1906 - The toys dealer
  December 16, 1906 - The Passing-poem
Etymology online: teddy bear
*Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery: Teddy Roosevelt
*Smithsonian Press: Teddy bear, about 1903
Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge: The Teddy Bear incident
Matt Schultz: Seymour Eaton (1859-1916)
Wikipedia: Washington Star; Richard Steiff; Teddy bear's picnic
*Jewish Virtual Library: Rose and Morris Michtom and the Invention of the Teddy Bear

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