One such phenomenon emerged in the early 20th century, forever changing the landscape of childhood play and nostalgia. This revolution was, surprisingly, a soft and cuddly one: the teddy bear… a “fad” that’s already lasted more than 120 years, and shows no signs of slowing.
Teddy bears sparked a global buying frenzy in the early 1900s
Once teddy bears hit the market — inspired by the US President at the time, Theodore Roosevelt — the craze for these soft, comforting companions was instant and universal. Suddenly, kids all around the globe wanted a teddy bear to hug, and adults saw in them a symbol of childhood innocence and nostalgia. It was a wildfire of cuteness if there ever was one.
Teddy bears quickly seeped into pop culture, featuring in songs, books, and movies. For just one example, there’s the classic song, “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” And who could forget about Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear, and Corduroy?
Even as technology advanced and playtimes evolved, teddy bears didn’t lose their relevance. For example, when Teddy Ruxpin made his debut in the mid-1980s, it was a marvel: a talking bear that read stories from a cassette tape tucked inside him! This mix of old world charm and new tech appeal allowed Teddy Ruxpin to command the toy scene, just like his predecessors.
From being cuddled in the arms of children to sitting on the shelves of collectors, teddy bears have come a long way. They’ve transitioned from comforting toys to valuable collector’s items, and today, even museums exist in their honor.
Below, see some vintage articles written about the teddy bear phenomenon — as well as a collection of old teddy bear pictures.
History of the teddy bear: The bears are still the most popular toys (1966)
By Irene M Stupp – Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania) December 24, 1966
If you were asked to name the kinds of toys Eskimo or African children have, what would you guess? Would you include a teddy bear among their toys? If so, you would be correct.
For 63 years, in spite of aggressive competition and skilled, high-priced advertising, the teddy bear has remained king of all animal and stuffed toys, and one of the leaders of the overall industry. For more than half a century, the teddy bear has been one of the world’s most popular toys.
It is estimated that since the first toy bear was created in 1903, close to 200,000,000 have been sold. In one respect, small fry today are like children who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. They like a toy they can cuddle and cherish. For more than three generations, the teddy bear has filled the bill.
“Teddy” as in Roosevelt
It was in 1902, during the ‘Presidency of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, that the teddy bear was created. Roosevelt, a vigorous, outdoorsman, loved hunting.
In 1902, he was invited to Mississippi on a bear-hunting expedition. After several days of fruitless hunting in bear country, a guide brought a bear cub to the President and said, “Here is your bear.” When Roosevelt saw the frisky, friendly animal, he refused to shoot it.
With the Presidential party was Clifford Berryman, political cartoonist for the Washington Post. When Berryman returned to Washington, he drew a cartoon of President Roosevelt refusing to shoot the bear. In succeeding cartoons, when Berryman depicted the president, he always included a drawing of “Teddy’s bear.”
Who invented the teddy bear?
About this same time, in the village of Giengen, Germany, the Steiff Company, toy manufacturers, was producing its first stuffed bear toy.
The company, begun in the 1880s, was well known for its stuffed toys. This was its first venture with a bear. The idea originated with Richard Steiff, nephew of the founder, while he was studying art at the University of Stuttgart.
Steiff enjoyed visiting the Stuttgart Zoo, and often sketched bear cubs at play. When he completed his studies at the university, Steiff returned to the family business. His drawings of bear cubs were used as models for the world’s first jointed, stuffed toy. The Steiff company still uses mohair; other manufacturers usually use rayon. The first teddy bears had shoe-button eyes. Today, they are made of plastic.
How the original teddy bear was officially named
The name “Teddy Bear” was officially launched in 1906, at the White House wedding of Alice Roosevelt when stuffed toy bears were used as table decorations.
While on a trip to New York, the Washington caterer in charge of the wedding dinner passed the store of F. A. O. Schwarz, world-famous for its toys. In the window were several of the Steiff’s bears. The caterer decided that these toys would make good table decorations.
Dressed in hunter and wedding attire, the President was an avid sportsman. During the dinner, a guest said to Roosevelt, “Mr. President, as a great hunter, perhaps you can tell us the breed of bears enhancing your tables.”
Someone in the room suggested, “Why, of course. They are Teddy Bears.” The story of the dubbing of the toy bear received much attention in the press. There was a tremendous demand for toy bears, and their long-lasting popularity had begun.
Big Teddy market
During the first few years, in Giengen alone, several million were sold. In 1958, on the 100th anniversary of Roosevelt’s birth, a commemorative anniversary was held in Giengen. The ceremonies included a “Teddy Bear Festival,” with a children’s parade in June. The US Army band participated, and there were several busloads of American school children.
Twenty-five thousand Germans and Americans were present for the celebration. In October, a bronze bust of the President, donated by the Steiff firm, was unveiled in the Giengen town hall. Special exhibits and lengthy newspaper articles described Roosevelt’s merits and accomplishments as US President.
Children love toy animals. They also love animal stories. Four books which were published between 1906 and 1909 won the hearts of that generation of children. The author was Seymour Eaton. Written in jingle form, the stories described the adventures of Teddy B and Teddy G. Teddy B was a brown bear; Teddy G was a white bear.
In the first book, entitled, “The Roosevelt Bears; Their Travels and Adventures,” their exciting and amusing feats while traveling about the United States were described. The second book, “More About Teddy B and Teddy G,” continued the story of their travels in this country.
Volume three, “The Roosevelt Bears Abroad,” told about their escapades in Holland, Germany, Russia, France, England, Ireland, Italy, and Egypt. The final book, “Teddy B and Teddy G, The Bear Detectives,” described their adventures with Jack the Giant Killer, Little Bo Beep, and other fairy tale characters.
These “teddy bear” books, which were profusely illustrated with colored and black-and-white pictures, brought many hours of enjoyment to the children who read them; also to the parents and adults who read — and re-read — the books to preschool youngsters. These “Roosevelt Bear” books are now collectors’ items.
Teddy bears: Most popular toy
Charles Veysey, president of FAO Schwarz, New York, stated recently, “As far as we are concerned, the Teddy Bear continues to be one of the most popular toys we have. I believe the Teddy Bear is one of the finest gifts a person can give. It is the one I always send when the occasion arises.”
Millions of children would agree with his choice. So would many parents, grandparents, and other older relatives who still have the teddy bear they cuddled — and cherished — when they were children.
Elvis Presley sings (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
An antique teddy bear (1966)
The Teddy Bear has remained the most popular toy at Christmas and any other time of the year. This old Teddy was probably sewn together around the turn of the century. He is made of mohair and has shoe-button eyes.
The TLC he has received can be seen in the worn line down his middle, corduroy reinforcement on his paws, and the hollows in his arms where the stuffing was weak from thousands of cuddly hugs.
The teddy bear craze in New York (1906)
The San Francisco Call (California) November 18, 1906
Over in Germany, there is a little old woman commanding a company of more than two thousand workers whose busy fingers fly from early morning till late at night cutting out, stitching up and putting together plush bears for the American market.
The New York people, grownups as well as children, have apparently gone crazy over these bears, and they will not be satisfied with any but those made by the German frau. Years and years ago, this woman designed a pattern for a bear which was so natural and appealed so to youngsters that she was called the mother of the bears. Then she had a tiny shop in her house and only a few girls to help her.
Astonishing growth of the latest fashionable silly fad
That was before the bear fad struck America. Now she has a factory that covers a whole square, and the machinery and employees are worked week in and week out at high pressure, because Young America must have his bears.
As the orders pile in with every mail and cables arrive almost hourly, the little old frau and her workers hold up their two thousand pairs of hands in consternation and wonder if every man, woman and child in America is sending for a whole family of bears.
They are not far wrong. The entire country is in the clutches, or rather the embrace, of the plush bear. Even pet dogs and dolls have had to step down and out. His Majesty Bruin now reigns.
The bear rage started at the summer resorts along the Jersey shore — some say it was at Atlantic City. At any rate, a nice, fat, winsome little brown bear sitting on a counter in a boardwalk shop attracted the eyes of a youngster, and nothing would do but mamma must stop and look at the lovely little plush animal.
Mamma liked the bear, too. He was an excellent pocket edition of those big cinnamon bears way up in Bronx Park, and the youngster remembered the fun he had had one day watching the bears lumber around the sides of the big iron enclosed pit and give each other love pats with their huge paws. He would have a bear pit, too.
Only this little plush bear looked so clean that it would be a shame to get him all dirty and frowsy. The youngster took hold of the coveted plaything and his delight grew. Bruin had such a realistic little hump at the back of his neck, and bully! He had a voice and his legs moved.
They were jointed and his solemn little pointed head would turn any way you wanted it to, and the soles of his paws, were all soft and flat and velvety, and he had such dear little ears and beady black eyes. And the youngster remembered that the Bronx bears had mouths exactly like this one, and even the expression of his face was like the best behaved and finest looking bear at the park.
Mamma must buy Bruin for him. He begged her to, and after a little conversation with the shopkeeper over the price, for the bear was rather an expensive plaything, she finally paid it and the wistful and anxious eyes of her small son and heir fairly beamed with joy as he marched away hugging his prize, just as proudly as a grown-up man or the President of the United States returning from a successful hunt.
Toy bears were everywhere
That started the bear fad. Of course, every other little boy on the boardwalk had to have a bear. It was just the thing for a boy. Girls had dolls to play with, and boys ought to have something like a bear when it was too hot for baseball or to play Indian in the park or shipwrecked sailors on the sand.
They grew eloquent in convincing their mothers of their needs. And the man in the shop found his bear stock totally unequal to the sudden demands made upon it. Inside of a few hours, every bear in the shop had been sold, tiny ones and big ones, for they come in several sizes, from the length of your hand to the size of a well-grown youngster.
So the shopkeeper telegraphed to New York for more, and these, too, went “like hot cakes.” No sooner were the plush figures put in the window than the shop was swarming with ladies after bears.
Then other shops stocked up with them, and the big ones in New York found themselves overwhelmed with orders for teddy bears.
By this time, Young America had christened them, appropriately, too. Isn’t the President the hero of every boy who longs to grow big enough to hold a gun to shoot bears and someday do just the very same things that “Teddy” Roosevelt does? So “Teddy” the bears were named, and as Teddy they are known now the length and breadth of our country, as well as on the other side of the Atlantic.
Never in the history of Wall Street was the country more at the mercy of bears than it is today. Stuffed plush teddies are fairly rampant, and indications show prospects of a long and continued reign.
Toy stores are providing a dozen bears to one doll in anticipation of the Christmas trade. Department stores are stocking up with them, and little out of the way shops have them for awhile, but not for long, because as soon as the youthful hunters get on their tracks they swoop down and bring them to bay.
The mother of the bears, the little German frau, is almost at her wits’ end to know what she is going to do. There is a fear that the supply of brown and white plush will give out, and then what would she do, for they wouldn’t be bears if they were made of any other color.
One New York store, the largest, has already sold over sixty thousand teddies, and by every steamer [ship], it gets hundreds of dozens, which are bought up at once.
1970s kids bedroom decor with teddy bear pattern (1972)
Vintage teddy bears through the years, in ads & popular culture
70s Avon Ted E Bear toothbrush holder (1974)
Singer Vikki Carr and her old Dakin Bearfoot teddy bear (1978)
Singer Teddy Pendergrass with some of his teddy bears that fans sent him (Ebony – 1979)
Vintage Russ teddy bear toy from 1985
Oneida silverware ad with an old teddy bear (1984)
Vintage SuperTed animated video series from Walt Disney (1985)
He’s got the stuffing heroes are made of.
Walt Disney Home Video presents The Premiere Adventures of SuperTed, the animated video series about an ordinary Teddy Bear who was rescued from the rubbish and given magic powers. This ordinary Teddy Bear became… SUPERTED! The super-powered teddy who can’t bear crime. He and Spottyman, his friend from outer space, fly all over the world combatting evil.
Already a favorite in England, SuperTed is a cartoon series made especially for young children. SuperTed began as a bedtime story, created by a daddy for his son who feared the dark. And so SuperTed was born, also a little afraid of the dark. SuperTed may be a hero, but inside, he’s just a cuddly kid. So remember: when you watch him at home, please leave a light on.
Retro 80s Teddy bear bone china sculptures (1986)
Fisher Price baby toys – Teddy Beddy Bear (1986)
Diamond A sliced picked beets and a free teddy bear plush toy (1987)
Dakin extra large stuffed teddy bear toy (1988)
The Polo Bear – teddy bear stuffed animal from Ralph Lauren (1991)
Saks Fifth Avenue Teddy Bear’s Picnic (1990)
Teddy’s First Christmas collectible plate from the Franklin Mint (1994)
Healthtex clothes for kids with the Snuggle fabric softener teddy bear (1995)
Once Upon A Teddy figurines ad from The Hamilton Collection (1995)
90s Gund stuffed bear toy plush animal (1998)