The history of the teddy bear
America's love for the cute, cuddly confidante that is the teddy bear began at the turn of the 20th century - interestingly enough with a real live "Teddy": President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1902, Washington Post columnist Clifford Berryman depicted Roosevelt in a cartoon refusing to shoot a captive baby bear on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Entitled "Drawing a Line in Mississippi," the cartoon seemed to have a double meaning. Roosevelt was drawing a boundary line, but he was also drawing a line when it came to hunting animals in captivity. The American people fell in love with Roosevelt and the bear, and so the fascination with the teddy bear was born.
A toy-making shop in Brooklyn, New York, created a stuffed version of the baby bear in the cartoon; the bear was unique in that it looked cute and friendly, unlike the fierce-looking stuffed bears that had previously been made. Requests for the bear began flooding in, and the owners of the shop partnered with a manufacturing firm to create the first teddy bear manufacturer in America - the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. About the same time, and unbeknownst to each other, a German toy manufacturer was also creating a stuffed bear that had the same characteristics of the American teddy bear. Americans began to go crazy for the bears —Roosevelt even used them as a symbol in his re-election campaign. Manufacturers sprang up everywhere; most failed, with the exception of the Gund Manufacturing Company, which is still making bears today.
During the first World War, Americans continued to demand teddy bears in record numbers, because the American people went relatively unaffected by the shortages and rations that Europeans were facing at the time. However, World War II brought a sharp decline for the teddy bear. Manufacturers made materials needed for war, not teddy bears. American teddy bears had to be put on the backburner.
The history of the teddy bear gets better. Demand grew after WWII, but with a change. American toy makers had been using authentic materials, with hand stitching. People began to demand washable toys that were not as fragile — or expensive. Eastern manufacturers began using synthetic materials that could be purchased cheaper than American products; many American plants closed during the 1960s and 70s.
Modern teddy bears range from generic brown bundles to artistic displays. Many companies will now custom-make bears; and you can even build your own bears at some chain stores nationwide. One thing is for sure, the history of the teddy bear demonstrates America's love for this symbol of comfort and home. Many children have a beloved bear that they sleep with every night to ward away nighttime fears; and many adults have a teddy bear collection that they plan to hand down to their own children.
The qualities that Americans love about teddy bears — soft fur, cute face, snuggly body — can be found as readily in a teddy bear bought in a discount store as one found in a specialty boutique. The bear that Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot has become the one that Americans cannot live without.