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Teddy Bears - a brief history lesson

It is difficult to trace the history of the teddy bear, because it appears to have been invented independently at around the same time in America and in Germany. There is no possibility of copying, as communications technology at the time certainly wasn’t good enough for people from opposite sides of the Atlantic to be talking to each other about toy bears – it seems that teddy bears were just an idea whose time had come. For this reason, it is best to trace the American and German stories separately.

In 1902 Germany, the Steiff toy company was trying to come up with new products. The owner’s nephew, Richard Steiff, often visited Stuttgart Zoo to get inspiration for new toys, and on one visit was particularly taken with a cute bear cub. He did lots of drawings of it, and had produced a prototype of the toy, the Steiff Bear, that year.

Teddy bears got their start in America because of a widely-reported event involving President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt going hunting in that same year, 1902. According to the story, Mississippi officials, keen to please the president, took him bear hunting, but the hunt was a failure as there were no bears to be found. One of the officials then brought the president a baby bear that he had caught and invited him to make the kill, but the president refused. Two toy-makers in New York quickly made a cute-looking toy baby bear, calling it ‘Teddy’s Bear’ – and it was a runaway hit, with a huge factory built just to fulfil the demand.

It is here that the two stories meet. When Steiff launched its bear at a 1903 toy fair, the American toy buyers realised that they could import this bear and capitalise on teddy bear fever. They ordered 3,000 Steiff Bears, and the bears quickly became some of the most popular teddies both in Germany and America – and from there, the craze spread worldwide.

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