Toy story: How did the teddy bear get its name?

Once upon a time in 1902, the President of the United States was hunting for bears in the woods. He had not seen a single one and the other hunters began to feel sorry for him, so they cornered and chained an old black bear to a tree. But the President refused to shoot the animal, saying it was unsportsmanlike. The news made the front page – it wasn’t just any president, it was Theodore Roosevelt, the big game hunter!

Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman satirised the event, drawing the old bear as an adorable cub. Seeing the illustration, sweet shop owners Rose and Morris Michtom were inspired to make a stuffed toy bear and called it ‘Teddy’s Bear’. They made soft toys as a side-line business, but soon requests for Teddy Bears were coming in thick and fast. After gaining Roosevelt’s permission to use his name, the couple started mass-producing them.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Steiff family of toy makers had produced a mohair bear with movable limbs after a trip to the zoo. They exhibited their creation at a toy fair, where an American businessman ordered 3,000. Soon, other bears were flooding the market, capitalising on their popularity. More than a century later, the teddy bear still lives happily ever after.

5 Facts about teddy bears

Jackie Miley from South Dakota, US, has filled her home with 8,026 bears – the largest collection according to the Guinness World Records 2018.

The priciest plush bear sold for £125,831 ($182,550) in Monaco. It was a 45-centimetre Steiff ‘Louis Vuitton’ bear made in 2000.

Magellan T Bear became the first teddy bear in space in February 1995 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. School pupils worked with NASA to have the bear certified for spaceflight.

The famous song Teddy Bears’ Picnic was composed in 1907 by American John Walter Bratton, but the lyrics weren’t actually added until 1932 by Irish-born songwriter Jimmy Kennedy.

After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, German producers Steiff made 600 black ‘mourning bears’ to honour the victims. One of these rare bears fetched £91,750 (approximately $120,000) at a London auction in 2000.


This article was originally published in How It Works issue 119, written by Jodie Tyley 


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