The Real Teddy Bear Story
by the Theodore Roosevelt Association
How did toy bears come to be named after President Theodore Roosevelt?
It all started with a hunting trip President Roosevelt took in 1902 in Mississippi at the invitation of Mississippi Governor, Andrew H. Longino. After three days of hunting, other members of the party had spotted bears, but not Roosevelt.
Now what? The President’s bear hunt would be a failure! The next day, the hunt guides tracked down an old black bear that the dogs had trailed quite a distance and attacked. The guides tied the bear to a willow tree and called for the President. Here was a bear for him to shoot!
But Roosevelt took one look at the old bear and refused to shoot it. He felt doing so would be unsportsmanlike. However, since it was injured and suffering, Roosevelt ordered that the bear be put down to end its pain. Word of this hit newspapers across the country, and political cartoonist Clifford Berryman picked up on the story, drawing a cartoon showing how President Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear while hunting in Mississippi.
The original cartoon, which ran in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902, shows Roosevelt standing in front. The guide and bear are in the background, and they’re about the same size. Later, similar cartoons appeared, but the bear was smaller and shaking with fear. This bear cub then appeared in other cartoons Clifford Berryman drew throughout Roosevelt’s career. That connected bears with President Roosevelt.
The Teddy Bear tie came when a Brooklyn, NY candy shop owner, Morris Michtom, saw Clifford Berryman’s original cartoon of Roosevelt and the bear and had an idea. He put in his shop window two stuffed toy bears his wife had made. Michtom asked permission from President Roosevelt to call these toy bears “Teddy’s bears”. The rapid popularity of these bears led Michtom to mass-produce them, eventually forming the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.
At about the same time, a German company, Steiff, started making stuffed bears. Margaret Steiff earned her living by sewing, first by making stuffed elephants, then other animals. In 1903, an American saw a stuffed bear she had made and ordered many of them. These bears, which also came to be called Teddy Bears, made the international connection.
More than a century later, teddy bears have never lost popularity, and all can be traced to that one hunting trip in Mississippi.
What the Theodore Roosevelt Association doesn’t emphasize is that Roosevelt had the original bear killed by someone in his party “to put the bear out of her misery,” and she was eaten that night. Ah, reality.
Theodore Roosevelt was also famously the police commissioner of New York long before he was president or assistant secretary of the navy. He did a lot to clean up the New York police department.
Because police, fire, and emergency officials found that giving a teddy bear to a child during a crisis stabilized and calmed them, the National Association of Police & Lay Charities (NAPLC) created the Teddy Bear Cops program to distribute teddy bears to police, fire, and emergency officials throughout the United States, for their use in providing teddy bears to children in emergencies. It seems the program is needed now to help the country cope with this latest round of police violence.
Reality strikes again.
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