Teddy Bear: The Story Behind America’s Cutest Toy

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Toys are one thing that children like to have. They are cute. They are often fluffy. And they are so much fun to play with. Sometimes, toys take the shape of cartoon characters which makes them much more appealing to children. For instance, Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Disney’s animated film A Toy Story are two very famous toys that kids who love the film like to own.

Other times, toys are just products developed by toy-making companies. Besides providing entertainment for children, the goal of these companies is to make a profit, a big profit, from toys. That is why every toy has to be special.

In this matter, there can be many factors that determine how special or different a toy is. One of such factors is the story behind it. If a toy is the product of some interesting story, many children, as well as parents, will probably like to buy it. And what story could be more interesting than that of the famous American toy teddy bear?

Well, it is not only the story that brought it into existence that is amusing but also the incredible success that followed its first appearance in 1902. In a century’s time, teddy bears have grown to become one of the world’s most best-selling toys.

Teddy bears are not just one bear design that could miraculously and mysteriously manage to stay in the market for over a hundred years. In fact, there are a large number of worldwide brands that are different in size, looks, colours, bear species, and even the fabrics used to make them.

So how did it become such a huge success? Let’s find out.

Who was Teddy, to begin with?

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It is so common to name toys or pets after people. But to name a toy after the president of the United States himself? That must have a good explanation.

Before the name Teddy was given to a chubby, fluffy, cute bear toy that was meant to become one of the most famous toys in the world, Teddy was the nickname of former President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States of America.

But how was the president’s nickname given to a puppet? Here is how the story goes.

One day in November 1902, the governor of the state of Mississippi invited President Roosevelt on a hunting trip. The president, governor, and several other hunters spent the day chasing animals. While some hunters seemed to have found some animals to kill, the president was quite unlucky. He could not capture any animals; not even a tiny little hare.

But all of a sudden, the president’s men spotted an American black bear at a distance. They ran after him but the bear was fast and sneaky. After a long chase that got the men worn out, they could corner, catch, and tie the bear to a large tree. Then, they called the president to shoot it.

But Roosevelt refused to kill the bear. He said that it was not him who caught the bear so shooting it would mean he claimed someone else’s effort as his. It was also quite unfair to the other competitors who joined the hunting trip.

A few days after this bear incident, political Cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon in The Washington Post newspaper showing the tied black bear and the president walking away and refusing to shoot it. Berryman called the poor, black bear ‘teddy’s bear’. Several other cartoons followed this first one in which teddy bears looked much cuter and smaller.

The birth of the teddy bear

Successful businessmen are those who can pick up new ideas and develop them into profitable products or services. For the teddy bear, two successful businessmen were behind turning it into a toy.

Soon after the cartoons were published in newspapers, an American sweet shop owner called Morris Michtom and his wife had the idea of turning it into a stuffed toy.

Michtom wasted no time. He quickly created a small, stuffed, fluffy bear and displayed it in his shop in Brooklyn. When the bear toy seemed to catch the attention of his customers, Michtom decided to manufacture it.

But before he did that, he sent off a bear sample to the president, asking for his permission to use his name. When Roosevelt gave him the green light, Michtom started the production of the teddy bear. Soon after the new bears were launched, their sales sky-rocketed and the demand for them got bigger and bigger.

In a rare coincidence, another German toy maker named Richard Steiff manufactured stuffed teddy bear puppets around almost the same time as the teddy bear incident. 

Not knowing that similar bears were already booming the American market, an Austrian buyer who worked for a company in New York and happened to be in Europe at that time decided to order 3000 of those German bears to sell them in the United States.

However, the German bears never really made it to the US. They are believed to have sunk with their ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Although this would have informed Michtom that he had a transatlantic competitor, he never really knew about that due to poor communication between different continents at the time. Remember, that was in 1903.

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The influence of the teddy bear

The demand for teddy bears grew bigger and more and more people were interested in buying the fluffy toy that entertained their children. But the great success teddy bears had was not limited to their sales volumes. It also went on to have a huge cultural influence, to inspire many other successes. 

For instance, Canadian-American Writer Seymour Eaton wrote a children’s book series about teddy bears and called it The Roosevelt Bears. A few years later, American Composer John Walter Bratton wrote a piece of music called Teddy Bears Picnic. This piece turned into a song whose lyrics were written by Songwriter Jimmy Kennedy. The song was later performed by the English Singer Henry Hall.

Winnie the Pooh, the honey-lover bear, created by the English author Alexander Alan Milne was inspired by a teddy bear. The success of the Winnie the Pooh story attracted Disney to adapt it into a cartoon character that featured multiple shorts and films.

Teddy bears also inspired many other artists, writers, and directors to produce works of art that people enjoyed a lot. For example, Mr Bean featured a teddy bear. Two successful American films named Ted and Ted 2 showed the story of a teddy bear that comes to life. Even Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc had his own teddy bear!

The museums of the teddy bear

Its influence also extended to museums. In fact, there is not just one museum but many. To be precise, there are at least 15 dedicated museums worldwide, most notably in England, Japan, and the United States. Such museums display a large variety of teddy bear brands manufactured over different periods in the past century.

The first ever teddy bear museum was opened in Petersfield, Hampshire, England in the mid-1980s. Then another museum was founded in 1990 in Naples, Florida, United States. However, these two museums were closed in the mid-2000s. 

On the other hand, teddy bears were honoured in several other museums that were opened in Japan, South Korea, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Russia. In England, there are two open museums located in Dorchester and Shropshire.

The development of the teddy bear

Though tens, if not hundreds, of toys have appeared and disappeared over the past century, teddy bears seem to be popular for years on end. So why is that?

For a toy to stay in the market for long, it must undergo huge development to meet the inevitable change in children’s interests and tastes over the years. Nowadays, in the era of TikTok, Snapchat, and video games, the challenge cannot be harder. According to Monsters, Inc, ‘children just don’t seem to be as scared anymore’, and I would say that they do not seem to be easily entertained either.

That said, teddy bears were meant to be successful thanks to their own shape as well as their providing children with what they need the most: safety.

Children feel safe, comfortable, and peaceful when touched, held, and hugged. And since teddy bears are so soft and fluffy that it is hard not to touch them, children can feel safe in the arms of a soft teddy bear. Studies have also shown that children cuddling a teddy bear help them calm down especially when they feel fussy and irritable.

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When kids grow up with a teddy bear that they care for and feel cared for by, they somehow form an emotional bond with it. That means bears grow to be children’s companions as the children themselves grow up. Over the years, this deep emotional bond strengthens, making it even harder to break.

As a result, children are more likely to keep their dear teddy friends even when they start to be interested in other toys and games. That is why teddy bears make perfect presents not only for children but for adults too.

Interestingly, the American Association for Charities created what is called a Teddy Bear Cops Program. This programme distributes teddy bears to all police, medical, and even fire responders in the United States. In case those responders find children in a crisis, they must hand them teddy bears to help them calm down.

But what about the development of teddy bears as products? Well, this also has been taken care of.

Since children are more likely to be attracted to cute toys, teddy bear manufacturers worked on making the bears cuter. First, play with the size. So bears can be large, medium, or small. Despite the shape they have, they have to be chubby. For some reason, chubbiness increases cuteness.

Second, face features. A closer look at any Pixar cute character can tell the secret of a cute face: large eyes and forehead, small nose and ears, and pink-ish, freckled chubby cheeks; just like babies. Accordingly, these features were adopted in teddy bears.

Manufacturers also use different fabrics to make the bears, in a way to improve their quality and durability. Nowadays, for instance, many materials are used to make teddy bears such as faux fur, cotton, and satin. Sometimes bears are known for the material they are made of.

In America, teddy bears were also made to resemble different kinds of bears. Besides the original American black bear, teddy bears can also be brown (grizzly) bears, pandas, polar bears, and koalas. 

The success of teddy bears attracted international manufacturers to produce and sell teddy bears. All of these companies now have their own brands. And they thrive to improve their quality to stand out amongst competitors. That translates to a huge variety of teddy bears for us to choose from.


Teddy bears are much more than just fluffy, cute puppets that children like to play with. From a business perspective, teddy bears have been a huge success that gives a great example for how inspiration works. Instead of Roosevelt’s incident being ignored and forgotten, it was human creativity that turned it into a giant source of amusement for children and adults alike. 

When parents buy teddy bears for their children, they help them feel secure and teach them to create emotional bonds with others. Children can also strengthen such bonds when they watch teddy bear cartoon films or read teddy-bear-based stories. And let’s not forget about the teddy bear museums anyone can visit. There, they can learn more about the history of and the great hard work behind this incredibly loved toy.

So since having a teddy bear is very common, do you have one? What do you call it? What does it look like? If not, would you like to get one? Tell us in the comments.

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