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Teddy Bears History

Teddy bears are younger than you think

Margarete Steiff and one of first teddy bearsTeddy bears are one of the world’s most popular children’s toys. But it might surprise you to learn that the teddy bear is younger than the electric light, the telephone and the motor car. In fact, this cuddly children’s favourite has only been around since 1903.

It could be argued that our fascination and love of bears began in 1834 when Robert Southey wrote the fairytale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Indeed in 1894 the German toy company, Gebruder Sussenguth produced a catalogue showing a stuffed bear toy. This was followed by Steiff in 1899, when this famous toy company foundered by Margarete Steiff, featured skittles and roly-poly toy bears in its catalogue.

The first ‘Teddys Bear’

Yet it wasn’t until 1902, when American President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub while hunting, that the idea for ‘Teddy’ bears came into existence. The event was depicted in a cartoon, which was seen by Morris Michtom, a US Russian Jewish immigrant, the following year.

He wrote to the President requesting permission to name a toy bear after him. The ‘Teddys Bear’ was born and became so popular that Morris Michtom became a founding partner in the first teddy bear manufacturing company in the United States, known as the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

The European teddy bear

By complete coincidence, in 1902 Margarete Steiff, included a Steiff plush bear in her catalogue, which was based on drawings by her nephew, Richard Steiff. When it was introduced at the Leipzig Toy Fair, in March 1903, ‘Baer 55PB’ was snapped up by an American toy buyer, who was aware of the growing American interest.

By 1906, the demand for teddy bears had turned into a craze and these lovable toys were here to stay.

A cuddly friend and an investment

Today the teddy bear is a part of almost all our lives. Certainly in the Western world, the teddy bear is a firm favourite, with most of us having at least one teddy bear while we were young. Yet, the teddy bear is more than simply a child’s toy. Many adults collect teddy bears for both sentimental reasons and as a financial investment.

Over the years, teddy bears have changed hands for vast sums of money. The 40cm Bar 28PB, the oldest known Steiff bear dating back to 1904 was priced at £82,000 at the 1999 Steiff Festival, Geingen. In 2000, Christies sold Titanic Bear, a black mourning bear, made in 1912 after the sinking of the Titanic, for £91,750. The famous Teddy Girl, a 1904 Steiff bear, was bought by the Japanese Izu Teddy Bear Museum for £110,000 in 1994. Finally Louis Vuitton, a new, limited edition bear dressed in designer clothing was auctioned for charity in 2000 raising a massive £130,000 at Teddies de l’ann, Monaco.

Thankfully our teddy bears and soft toys are much more affordable – but equally adorable!


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