The Real Story Behind the Teddy Bear

December 22, 2022


The teddy bear is the namesake of President Theodore Roosevelt and originated in 1902 when the president refused to kill a bear that his hunting party had captured. But there’s much more to the story than just this information.

Theodore Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi on the invitation of the governor of the state, Andrew H. Longino. Roosevelt hadn’t seen a bear during three days of hunting, but other members of the party had seen and shot bears. Not wanting to look like the hunt had been a loss, the guides for Roosevelt tracked an old bear that had been followed by hounds used in the hunt. The men caught up to the bear and tied it to a tree so the president could bag a bear. Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear because it was unsportsmanlike and defenseless.

The story spread to newspapers around the country, and a cartoonist named Clifford Berryman saw it and drew a cartoon depicting Roosevelt refusing to shoot the bear. It originally ran in The Washington Post, and the association with Teddy Roosevelt and the bear was made.

teddy bear cartoon
The Washington Post political cartoon

Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn, New York candy shop owner, saw the cartoon and put two toy bears his wife had made on display in his store’s window. He even got the president’s permission to call these bears, “Teddy’s bear.” The bears became a huge success, and Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which also became a big success.

Around the same time Michtom was beginning to mass-produce the bears, Steiff, a German plush toy company, began making stuffed bears that had no connection to the events in the U.S. The bears were from a design made earlier by Richard Steiff.

An American in 1903 named Hermann Berg, a buyer for George Borgfeldt & Company in New York, saw these bears at a toy fair in Germany and ordered a shipment of 3,000 of them to be shipped to the U.S. They also became known as “Teddy Bears.” The international connection was made without either Michtom or the Steiff company knowing about the other’s bears.

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About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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