Stuffed animal bears have been a beloved part of our country’s childhood for generations. What many may not realize is that these cherished toys have their origins in a man’s deep immersion into the natural world in the early 20th century.
Theodore Roosevelt, affectionately known as Teddy, assumed the role of the 26th President of the United States in 1901. A passionate outdoors enthusiast and devoted naturalist, Roosevelt held a profound love for exploring the wonders of the natural world. During his presidency, he accomplished remarkable conservation feats, safeguarding in excess of 200 million acres of public land and instituting the U.S. Forest Service, along with the establishment of five National Parks. Yet, how does all this relate to the beloved stuffed animal bears, one might wonder?
In the autumn of 1902, Theodore Roosevelt accepted an invitation from Mississippi’s Governor, Andrew Longino, for a hunting expedition. Guided by an experienced outdoorsman named Holt Collier, the group set out in search of a black bear. On the second day, Collier stumbled upon one and decided to secure it for Roosevelt, who was trailing behind with Longino. However, when Roosevelt eventually arrived, he was taken aback. He expressed his disapproval, deeming such an act as unsportsmanlike.
–PRESIDENT CALLED AFTER THE BEAST HAD BEEN LASSOED, BUT HE REFUSED TO MAKE AN UNSPORTSMANLIKE SHOT–
On November 15, 1902, the Washington Post featured this headline capturing a moment when President Theodore Roosevelt chose not to shoot a 235-pound black bear tethered to a tree. Despite his extensive hunting experience across America, the President declined, stating, “I’ve hunted game all over America and I’m proud to be a hunter. But I couldn’t be proud of myself if I shot an old, tired, worn-out bear that was tied to a tree.”
The Inspiration for the Stuffed Teddy
Clifford Berryman of the Washington Post produced the sensational cartoon
Renowned political caricaturist Clifford Berryman, who contributed to the Washington Star, astutely seized upon the President’s decision not to take aim at the bear, cleverly employing it as a symbol of Theodore Roosevelt’s hesitance regarding a boundary dispute concerning the Mississippi. Berryman’s cartoon swiftly gained nationwide recognition, serving as the catalyst for Rose and Morris Michtom, proprietors of confectionery in Brooklyn, to make the inaugural stuffed bear toy, aptly christened “Theodore Roosevelt.”
Before creating more teddy bears, Morris Michtom sought Roosevelt’s permission to make a small bear cub, intending to name it “Teddy’s Bear.” Benjamin Michtom, his son, recalled that while Roosevelt agreed to lend his name to this novel creation, he harbored doubts about its potential in the toy industry. In 1903, the birth of the Ideal Toy Company marked the inception of a multimillion-pound enterprise. By 1908, the bear had garnered such immense popularity that a minister from Michigan voiced concerns, warning that replacing dolls with teddy bears might undermine the maternal instincts of young girls.
Mrs. Longworth’s Refusal of Teddy Bear Anniversary Offer
In 1963, Benjamin Michtom, then serving as the president of the Ideal Toy Company, made a notable decision to commemorate the Teddy Bear’s 60th anniversary. His initial step involved reaching out to Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, extending an offer to present her with one of the original Teddy Bears, with the request that she pose alongside it. To the surprise of the Ideal Toy Company’s representative, Mrs. Longworth promptly declined the offer, stating, “I don’t want it.” When queried about her decision, the pitchman inquired, “For goodness’ sake, why not?”
The Teddy Bear’s Smithsonian Journey
Smithsonian- National Museum of American History
Mrs. Longworth’s initial response questioned the purpose of a 79-year-old doll desiring companionship with a 60-year-old bear. Undeterred, Mr. Mitchom reached out to Mr. Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, and proposed a unique solution: his children would pose with the bear, and he intended to gift it to them, with the condition that it would eventually find its home at the Smithsonian Institution. Following a photoshoot featuring Kermit Roosevelt’s children, Mark and Anne Roosevelt, their attachment to the bear grew strong, leading them to clandestinely hide it from their parents. In a letter addressed to Mr. Michtom, Mrs. Roosevelt expressed her initial intent to approach the Smithsonian for the bear’s presentation, but the children’s reluctance to part with it altered her plans. Ultimately, Mark and Anne had a change of heart, and in January 1964, the cherished bear found its way to the Smithsonian, fulfilling its destiny as a cherished piece of history.
A Teddy Bear Gift to Kermit Roosevelt
Roosevelt’s children were among the initial recipients of the Teddy Bear’s playful embrace. Though unverified, it is rumored that the Michtom family bestowed this beloved bear upon thirteen-year-old Kermit Roosevelt. This cherished companion served as a perpetual symbol of their father’s affection and profound affinity for the natural world, etching into their hearts a poignant reminder of his tender spirit.