By Lia Blanchard
You probably know that the “teddy bear” stuffed animal was named for Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the charismatic 26th President of the United States.
Why a bear?
1902. Roosevelt, a renowned outdoorsman, was hunting bear in Mississippi. After a lengthy period of riding and walking in the woods without even seeing a bear, the party finally came upon bear tracks. The guide, determined for the hunt to be a “success,” went after the bear with his dogs and chased the animal until it was exhausted and began fighting back. At least one of the dogs was killed. The guide needed to protect his dogs but wanted to save the actual kill for the President, so he sounded his horn to call the President to him then approached and subdued the bear with the butt of his rifle, then tied it to a tree.
When Roosevelt arrived, he found no sportsmanship in “hunting” a bear in that condition. The creature was so mauled that Roosevelt asked for it to be humanely put down.
Birth of the “Teddy bear”
Because there were reporters in the hunting party, news of Roosevelt’s fairness and compassion for the bear spread quickly. A political cartoon of the incident was in every newspaper in the country.
Mr. and Mrs. Michtom of New York City owned a small candy and novelty shop. The story goes that Mrs. Michtom, after reading newspaper accounts of the hunting incident, made a small stuffed bear and put it in the shop window with a handwritten sign, proclaiming it to be “Teddy’s bear”. After receiving many offers to buy the bear, the Michtoms sent the original toy to the President and asked if they could use his name on future productions. He agreed.
The “Teddy bears” were so popular that a year later the Michtoms closed their little shop and launched the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company (which, many decades later, went on to create such classics as the Magic 8 Ball and the Rubik’s Cube). In 1963, they donated one of the original toys to the Smithsonian Institution.
“Teddy bear” mania swept the world, and a cuddly bear cub was the mascot for Roosevelt’s successful 1904 reelection campaign. The image associated Roosevelt with a “huggable toy and family values.”