Teddy Bear

The Teddy Bear (1902) so beloved of children everywhere was named for Theodore Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a defenseless bear on a hunting trip. His act of gallant sportsmanship was memorialized by Washington Post artist Clifford Berryman in a cartoon entitled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” Thus depicted, Roosevelt’s kind act caught the fancy of Americans everywhere. Citizens appreciated a president committed to what would later be called the doctrine of fair chase, which the Boone and Crockett Club (which Roosevelt helped found in 1888) defines as hunting without an “improper or unfair advantage over the animal.”

The famous Berryman cartoon which started it all. From the Library of Congress Manuscripts division.In November 1902, President Roosevelt was hunting in the vicinity of Smedes, Mississippi. When tracking and locating a bear seemed likely to be fruitless, his hosts wanted to make sure the president got his prey. They produced what contemporary journalist Mark Sullivan called “a small bear” and encouraged Roosevelt to shoot him. Roosevelt refused. Several stories of this incident exist. The bear was either tied to a tree, or wounded, or a cub, or quite elderly. All versions agree that the bear was unable to defend itself, and Roosevelt would not shoot such a helpless creature in sport.

Berryman’s cartoon made its way to Germany, and Marguerite Steiff and her nephew Richard began to manufacture a plush version of a bear in 1902. Some sources suggest that Richard Steiff independently created a soft toy before the Roosevelt hunting incident, and that the Steiff bear caught on because of the serendipitous timing. Steiff bears first retailed in Leipzig in 1903 but three thousand were also shipped to and sold in the United States that year. At nearly the same time, Rose and Morris Mitchum (or Michtom), hearing of the Mississippi incident, sewed a soft toy which they called Teddy’s bear and displayed in their New York storefront. The Mitchums would later found the Ideal Toy Company.

The origins of the teddy bear are not entirely clear, but the toy, named in honor of President Roosevelt’s ethical stance, enjoys enduring popularity.