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Jul. 15th, 2008

picnic basket

bearly beginning: who made the first teddy bear?

 
 
                              Roosevelt Bear bares all in his biography

Welcome to the Teddy Bear and Friends Summer Picnic!

We're so glad you're here. The resident bears have been practically jumping out of their fur with excitement. We've got lots of fun coming your way in the next several weeks -- books, food, music, games, and a couple of special guests.

But first things first. We must pay homage to the man who started it all -- President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919). You may know that in 1902 he travelled south to settle a boundary dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. When his work was done, he decided to go bear hunting, but wasn't successful in finding any game.

Members of his party didn't want to disappoint him, so they chased down a stray cub, roped it and tethered it to a tree. They called the President over, but upon seeing the frightened animal, he absolutely refused to shoot it. A few days later, newspaperman Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon for The Washington Post, depicting the President's encounter with the wild bear cub. 



This political cartoon soon appeared in newspapers all over the country, as the nation praised Roosevelt's kindness and compassion. Morris and Rose Michtom, who owned a candy and toy shop in Brooklyn, were inspired by the cartoon to create two soft, stuffed bears, which they displayed in their shop window. They sold right away, and Morris decided to name the new toy "teddy's bear," after obtaining the President's permission to use his name. Michtom then founded the Ideal Toy and Novelty Co., which still exists today.

     
      The Morris Michtom Bear, a reproduction of the first bear produced by the Ideal Toy and Novelty Co., in commemoration of the teddy bear's 100th birthday

At about the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff designed a stuffed bear based on bears he had seen at the zoo. It was displayed at the 1903 Leipzig Toy Fair, where an American buyer loved them and ordered 3,000 to be shipped back to the states. Steiff is still one of the premier bear manufacturers in the world, and all of its stuffed animals are known for their high quality, impeccable craftsmanship, and ability to retain their value on the secondary market.

             
                     Richard Steiff 1902 authentic replica

It is uncanny how teddy was born on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time, and how relatively similar the first prototypes look. Though the debate over who actually made the first teddy bear continues today, there has never been any disagreement over teddy's popularity or the positive effect he has had on his human companions.

The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy, pictures by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2000), is a good introduction to teddy bear history for young readers ages 5 and up. The realistic oil paintings, rendered in earth-tones and bronzes, reflect Roosevelt's deep love for nature while capturing the spirit of the past. Frankenhuyzen does a beautiful job of depicting Roosevelt and the Michtoms, and his stuffed bears appear warm and huggable without being overly cute. There is no mention of Richard Steiff in this book, as it is a work of historical fiction that solely traces the teddy bear's American origin. 

      
        The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy,
        pictures by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2000), 
        ages 5+, 32 pp.

But where are my manners? I've been talking all this time and haven't even offered you something to eat. What's a picnic without food? Please have a bite, and see you next time!