Hey, kids (of all ages), time to snuggle up to your favorite teddy bear…or remember a favorite one from your childhood. National Teddy Bear Day is September 9, 2016, and what better way to celebrate than with a cuddle or maybe just a memory? For many children, their teddy bear was one of their first friends, loved and cherished—sometimes to pieces and then mended again and again.
The history of children’s literature—and toys—is filled with bears, teddy or otherwise. There are icons such as Pooh and Paddington, the Berenstain Bears, and of course comparatively newer friends such as Care Bears, and don’t forget the entire collection of Build-A-Bear bears and characters. Each of these has resonated with kids, and despite the fact that real bears can be more than a little scary when they encounter humans, fictional bears and teddy bears are all about our more gentle and loving natures. That’s what is being celebrated on this upcoming holiday.
Of course, National Teddy Bear Day is an “unofficial” holiday, but who needs something to be “official” as an excuse to get an extra hug? As a toy, the teddy bear has been around for more than a century, and it shows no sign of going away, or hibernating, any time soon.
So how did the teddy bear as we know it come to be?
Many people want to lay claim to having originated the teddy bear. And there are many conflicting stories, each with its passionate adherents. Some say it was named for King Edward VII of England, who was known as Teddy. The Steiff Company, one of the largest manufacturers of stuffed toys throughout the world, created a bear in 1903 inspired by sketches of cubs in a London zoo. These toys soon found their way to the U.S.
Easily the most widely accepted story has to do with President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. On a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902, Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub whose mother had been killed in the hunt. As anything a U.S. President does is newsworthy and subject to editorializing, the story gained wide circulation and was reflected in a cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post. Captioned “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” the cartoon that showed Roosevelt refusing to shoot an adorable cub, quickly circulated throughout the nation.
In Brooklyn, Morris Michtom and his wife, Rose, saw the cartoon, and Rose made a bear, which was displayed in the window of their shop with a copy of the cartoon and a sign that simply said, “Teddy’s Bear.” This proved so popular that soon the Michtoms couldn’t keep up with demand for the adorable stuffed animal. When Roosevelt, at Michtom’s request, granted permission for the use of his name on the bear, the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company was born in 1903.
Today, there are literally hundreds of companies making bears, and the name “Teddy Bear” has become a generic for any stuffed bear, and sometimes for any stuffed animal.
And yet, for all the millions of teddy bears that have been made, bought, and loved over the years, no two are ever the same because each one is brought to life in the imaginations of the children and adults who love them. Each bear and its story may be imaginary, but the love and memories that grow up around these toys are very real. No wonder children hold tight to their soft, cuddly friends and years, or even decades, later, recall with great affection the bears that they loved.
What was your favorite teddy bear? Let us know, and share the love on this National Teddy Bear Day!