Perhaps the longest lived and most popular fad ever, the Teddy Bear has become a fixture in the life of almost every child in the United States. In the early part of the 20th century, it was probably the most important object in a child’s nursery.
The Teddy Bear doll was developed in response to the popularity of the story of an encounter between a small bear cub and Teddy Roosevelt. The adventurous United States President was on a hunting trip in Mississippi when he wandered upon a defenseless bear cub. He refused to shoot the small animal and the event was depicted a cartoon in the Washington Star newspaper. The story became legendary and captured the hearts of the American public and soon, small sawdust filled bear dolls were be created. Eventually, these became known as Teddy Bears in honor of the President.
Unfortunately, this story is almost completely a work of fiction. Roosevelt was hunting bears along the Sunflower River in Mississippi when he and his group heard the barking of several hunting dogs. This was followed by the giant roar of a bear. When the group descended upon the scene they found a bear attacking one of the dogs. While the other dogs snapped at the bear from all sides, the group rushed in. What Roosevelt found startled him. The black bear and been tied to a tree and knocked almost unconscious by the butt one of the group’s rifles. The animal lay on the ground, bitten and almost torn apart by the dogs, barely clinging to life. It was a small bear, only around 230 lbs., and in it’s sad condition Roosevelt felt that it was less than sporting to “hunt” the downed bear, instead requesting that one of the guides put it out of its misery. The story changed over a few weeks when an artist for the Washington Post reimagined the scene with the President refusing to shoot a cuddly bear cub. And so legend began.
In Brooklyn, New York, a Russian-born candy store owner Morris Mitchtom and his wife Rose began producing a stuffed animal in the form of a small bear cub and began selling them as “Teddy’s Bear.” Quickly, Teddy Bear mania swept the country as they ended up not only in every child’s room, but also appeared in newspaper and magazine adventure stories and children’s books. They also appeared on plates, blankets, hats and other household items. Eventually, however, the mania began to fade when Roosevelt decided not to seek reelection. While the mania did not last, America’s love affair with the bear dolls certainly did.
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