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The history of the Teddy Bear: Once seen as a dangerous influence on young children

Still Waters

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A true history of the teddy bear begins in the American wilderness. In November 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a hunting trip in Mississippi with one main goal: to bag a black bear. As the tale goes, after Roosevelt had scoured the brush for several days without so much as spotting one, some of his hunting companions corralled an injured old bear and tied it to a willow tree. Here, they said, was Roosevelt’s opportunity to slay one and declare victory. Horrified, the president refused, saying it would be unseemly—unsporting!—for a man of honor to kill this vulnerable creature. He ordered the decrepit bear to be euthanized, and this odd show of mercy quickly became news.

Editorial cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman captured the scene in several Washington Post drawings—one showing a thin Roosevelt refusing to kill a bear, another picturing a more realistically stocky Roosevelt near a smaller bear with a wide-eyed, babylike face. To Brooklyn candy store owner Morris Michtom, the cute cub from the cartoons also looked like a marketing opportunity. He asked his wife, Rose, to sew a stuffed version, and that single prototype sold shortly after the couple placed it in the store window. Rose made more, and with demand exceeding what busy fingers could create, the two began factory production in 1903. Michtom called his cushy new companions “Teddy’s bears,” after the president. By late 1906, the name had shifted to “teddy bear.”


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