The First Teddy Bear

Who can imagine a world without Teddy Bears?
Nowadays it’s hard to believe there ever was a time they didn’t exist. But they are relatively modern and date from the start of the 20th century. But who made the first Teddy Bear? A lot of different stories are about, here are two, in no particular order…

Part 1

Margarete Steiff was born in the little town of Giengen-am-Brenz in Würtemburg in 1847. After an attack of polio she was confined to a wheelchair on an early age. As well as the more traditional things such as needle-cases and pin-cushions, she made up a few small stuffed elephants, which became very popular with the visiting kids. Her brother Fritz encouraged her to sell her work in markets. She made a whole range of stuffed animals and she became famous for them. By 1892 she had registered a trademark with a camel on wheel motif, and in 1898 she registered an elephant on wheels. This was the start of a toy factory, which still remains in family hands today. In 1903 Margarete made a little jointed bear doll, designed by her artistic nephew, Richard. This was shown at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1903 and was very popular with the American buyers. So it seems that the Steiff family was making stuffed, jointed bears in 1902 and 1903, just at the time the Washington Star cartoon appeared.

Richard Steiff once saw an act with a performing bear in the Hagenbeck’s Circus. He was so enchanted with the animal that he sketched it in various poses. This was the origin of Margarete’s bear and provides the reason why her earliest Teddy Bears looked so true to life, with the longs paws, the pointed snout and the stitched claw lines. Some of Margarete’s designs were pirated and for this reason she established the famous ‘Knopf im Ohr’ trademark, a little metal clip in the ear of her Teddies. The mark was registered on May 13, 1905 in both Germany and England.

Part 2

Morris Michtom originally came from Russia; maybe he was fond of bears, animals that figure so strongly in Russian folk tales. He saw the cartoon in the Washington Star, November 18th 1902. He and his wife where in the toy business. His wife made up the first sample bear cub. They made three more, sending one to President Roosevelt asking if he would object to them calling the bear cub ‘Teddy Bear’. The President didn’t object as the cubs where put on the market early 1903.

The first customer was Butler Bros. In 1904 Sears Roebuck was added and between the two of them they took the entire Morris Michtom’s output. Thereafter the business expanded and became The Ideal Toy Corporation in 1907. Despite his business acumen, Morris Michtom failed to do two important things: to take out a patent for his jointed Teddy Bear and to register a trademark. As a result many other manufacturers soon followed his lead and made similar Teddy Bears.