Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.
Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…
The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!
News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.
A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.
The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.
I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.
As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.
As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.
I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).
Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.
My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.
My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).
I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:
- The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
- The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
- The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
- The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
- The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
- The various others who’d damage or shoplift
Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…
I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?
When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.
Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.
In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!
Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.
My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.
Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?