Thursday, February 4, 2016

Teddy Roosevelt and his Bears - a Grizzly History and Etymology of "Teddy Bears"

In Dickens’ fictional drama, A Tale of Two Cities, innocent Brit, Sydney Carton, passes himself off as condemned Frenchman, Charles Darnay; thereby giving meaning to his own, empty life, by accepting Darnay’s sentence to death by guillotine as his own.  His sacrifice is doubly tragic, or heroic, because they both loved Lucie; Carton’s death paves the way for his beloved Lucie, his rival Darnay, and their children to live happily ever after.

(Coincidentally, Carton’s death may also be the origin of “twenty-three,” in the early 20th Century slang phrase, “twenty-three skidoo;” but that’s another story.)

In Kathleen Bart’s true life mystery, A Tale of Two Teddies, two rival plush bears, an American bear, created by the Michtom family, and a German bear, by the Steiff family, pass themselves off as the true and original, “Teddy Bear.”   Despite her extensive research into the early days of the stuffed-bear phenomenon, including interviews and access to the descendents of Rose and Morris Michtom, Margarete Steiff, and Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt, the namesake of the bears, Bart was unable to answer the question, “which bear was first?” [i]  The jury is still out, and neither one is willing to sacrifice itself for the betterment of the other. 

Wha’d’ya expect? – they’re just animals, and not real ones at that.

There is one more mystery.  Although the first stuffed, plush bears that eventually earned the name, “Teddy Bear,” are believed to have been made in 1903, the name, “Teddy Bear,” does not appear in the written record until late, 1905.  Is the nearly three-year gap an indication that bears were not known as, “Teddy Bears” during the period, or just a natural artifact of a new name taking time to get into print?  Is it an indication that the Michtom’s claim to have received permission, directly from Roosevelt, to use the name “Teddy” is a later fabrication, or result of fading memories?  The Michtom’s story did not appear in print until 1953; they claimed to have been inspired by an ill-fated hunting trip in late-1902.  Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a bear that his guide had trapped, beaten senseless, and roped to a tree – with the expectation that the President would fire the kill-shot. [ii]

But, even if the Mississippi bear hunt had some influence on the naming of the bears, it may be only one of many such influences.  Long before the failed hunting trip, the names Roosevelt and “Teddy” were closely associated with bears and bear hunting.  For example, there were at least three actual bears named “Teddy” or “Theodore” on display in zoos in New York and Washington DC before he ever became President.  Other actual bears named Teddy also made headlines at about the same time the Michtoms are said to have made and named their first bear.   While it is believable that Michtoms, or anyone else, might have named their stuffed bears, “Teddy,” in honor of Teddy Roosevelt, the name was already an obvious choice even before the Mississippi bear hunt.

Further muddying the waters, the name “Teddy” may not have even been the first name of Berryman’s cartoon bear or of stuffed, plush toy bears made at some point in time thereafter.  In June 1904, for example, a reference to a stuffed bear with a "growler" (a noisemaker; a feature in many early plush bears) did not use a name at all; and when the toy industry journal, Playthings, first referred to such bears in 1906, it referred to them as “Teddy’s Bears,” not “Teddy Bears.” [iii]   In addition, some people called Berryman’s cartoon bears “Johnny Bear,” even as late as five months after publication of Berryman’s first bear; and some people called stuffed, plush bears “Johnny Bears,” even as late as September 1906, several months into the original “Teddy Bear Craze.”  Numerous other bears, actual and fictional, were also referred to as “Johnny Bear” during the period.  The name, “Johnny Bear,” was borrowed from a successful illustrated children’s story, first published in 1900.

In this post, I do not attempt to answer any of the questions.  I merely present contemporary accounts of early associations between Roosevelt and bears, survey the forgotten name, “Johnny Bear,” and lay out an early timeline of cartoon bears, plush toy bears, and look at evidence suggesting that the “Teddy Bear Craze” of 1906 started along the Boardwalks of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

(For more information on Teddy Roosevelt's lasting contributions to women's fashion click here - the "Teddy" was named (albeit indirectly) for President Roosevelt)

(To listen to (arguably) the greatest Trucker/CB song ever, click here - Red Sovine - Teddy Bear

First Known “Teddy Bear”

“Teddy Bears” have been known by that name since at least November, 1905.  The earliest known example in print reads:

“Teddy” bears holding little cubs in their arms like real mothers are the latest arrivals; be sure to see them; see all other things as they come along, but most are already here.

Post Standard (Syracuse, New York), November 18, 1905.[iv]

The name, “Teddy,” was applied to stuffed bears as an homage to then-President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who had a long-standing reputation as a bear killer:

Cincinnati Enquirer, January 26, 1901, page 9.

Conventional thinking holds that the name, “Teddy,” was first applied to stuffed, plush bear toys shortly after a failed bear hunting expedition in Mississippi in late-1902, when “Grizzly Slayer” Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a helpless black bear that his hunting companions had captured, wounded and roped to a tree, in hopes of letting the President finish the job.

Roosevelt’s sportsmanship drew public praise and positive press coverage, including a political cartoon depicting Roosevelt as, “drawing the line” at shooting a defenseless bear:

Washington Post, November 16, 1902.

The bear character was well-received, and soon became a popular, recurring trademark of its creator, Clifford K. Berryman of the Washington Post, and later the Washington Star:


Evening Star, January 31, 1907, page 1.

Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot, and the subsequent coverage and cartoon, is said to have inspired Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michton to create the first and original stuffed bear in early 1903; they are said to have called it, “Teddy’s Bear.”  Michtom family lore holds, that they asked Roosevelt for permission to use his name, and received written approval from the President. [v]  No such letter, however, has ever been found.[vi] 

Margarete Steiff’s German toy company started producing bears at about the same time.  In 1907, a Canadian trade journal sketched the following summary of their understanding of the origin of the bears:

The staple article this Christmas will still be the Teddy Bears, which has been a conqueror all over America.  An inferior grade of Teddy Bears are made in United States and England, the better grade being made in Germany.

It was in Germany that a poor widow lady, who is now worth several millions, made the first Teddy Bear, without having a thought of Roosevelt in her mind.  It remained for a wily American, who chanced along, to recognize the possibilities.  He gave her a contract for a number of them; now she is running six factories night and day.  In the States there are said to be at least thirty factories meeting the demand some of them keeping a real young bear as a model.

The Bookseller and Stationer (Montreal, Canada), Volume 23, Number 12, page 31.

That may have been enough to inspire the name, “Teddy,” for stuffed bears, but even without the hunt and subsequent cartoon, “Teddy” already had a long association with bears – real bears.

NOTE: For a more thorough discussion of the contributions of Margarethe Steiff and Morris Michtom's contributions to the Teddy Bear industry, see my post, Margarete Steiff, Morris Michtom and Teddy Roosevelt: Hunting Down the Origin of "Teddy Bear".

Real Live “Teddy” Bears

On March 4, 1901, the day Theodore Roosevelt was first sworn in as Vice President of the United States, two performing bears from Arizona marched in President McKinley’s inauguration parade; their names were “Teddy” and “Theodore”:

Real Live Bears to March for Teddy.

Arizona Man Takes Grizzlies to Washington to Take Part in Inaugural Parade.

Theodore Roosevelt will ride in the inaugural parade at Washington like a Roman conqueror.  Besides the guard of Rough Riders and the pomp and splendor of civic and military organizations there will be bears – grizzly bears – to give living reminder to the populace of Teddy’s thrilling exploits in Grizzly Gulch.

The bears are calculated to do honor even to Teddy.  They are grizzlies of the grizzliest type, big, hairy and muscular.  One is named “Teddy” and the other “Theodore.”

Both “Teddy and Theodore” sojourned in St. Louis yesterday.  They were in charge of “Lucky Mark” Lulley, a mining speculator of Arizona.  Lulley procured breakfast for “Teddy” and “Theodore” at Union Station, after which the trio departed eastward.

The St. Louis Republic (Missouri), February 28, 1901, page 4.

Lulley’s bears had been trapped during a hunting trip in Arizona the previous year, by the Democratic Mayor of Indianapolis, and William Hohe, the Republican Collector of Taxes at Nogales, Arizona; Lulley acted as guide.  The two “hunters” bet the cost of transporting the bears to Washington on the outcome of the Presidential election.  Since the Republican ticket of McKinley and Roosevelt won, the Mayor of Indianapolis foot the bill to send the bears to Washington.

Mark Lulley and his bears before their trip to Washington, The Oasis (Arizola, Arizona), February 9, 1901, page 1.

Despite the grisly description above, the bears were, in reality, not very scary:

Going With the Bears.

Mark Lulley Will Start for Washington Shortly to Attend the Inauguration.

Next week Lucky Mark Lulley will start for Washignton (his home) with the little bears, “Lulley” and Lindsay,” captured by Mark and Mr. L. Lindsay, when they were in the Santa Rita mountains last summer.  Then they were little larger than kittens; now they are more than half grown, but as playful and cut as when first caught.

With the bears Mark will participate in the inaugural parade, in which he has already been assigned a position by the grand marshal; and after the parade he will consign them to the “Zoo,” as the zoological garden of the Smithsonian Institute is familiarly known – Mark having donated the little fellows to that institution and the donation is accepted.

Arizona Silver Belt (Globe City, Arizona), February 21, 1901, page 3.

When rumors circulated that Teddy Roosevelt, himself, had trapped the bears, he was not amused:

Some wag started a story that the two Colorado performing bears that were carried in the Inaugural parade by a fool election bettor, were captured by Teddy during his recent hunting trip, and all along the line was constantly heard: “Here comes Teddy’s bears.” Mr. Roosevelt is said to have been made quite angry by the story and especially by the continued reference to it.

Watauga Democrat (Boone, North Carolina), March 14, 1901, page 1.

Teddy Bear at the Zoo:

The two bears in McKinley's inauguration parade in 1901 were not the only bears falsely rumored to have been captured by Teddy Roosevelt.  Less than two months before the inauguration, Teddy Roosevelt, himself, donated a bear to the New York Zoological Society; a bear that was later falsely rumored to have been personally captured by him:

Teddy’s Bear in the Park. 
Oyster Bay, L. I., January 3 – Jonathan Edwards, the famous black bear sent from west Virginia to little Teddy Roosevelt [(Theodore “Ted” III, age 14)], has been presented to the New York Zoological Society by Colonel Roosevelt, and the gift gratefully acknowledged by W. T. Harnaday, director of the Zoological park.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), January 8, 1901, page 14.

“Teddy’s Bear” appears to have been named after Jonathan Edwards, an Early-American theologian and President of Princeton University.  Edwards was a direct ancestor of Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, Edith, as well as of Vice President Aaron Burr, the writer O. Henry and the publisher Frank Doubleday.

Six months later, however, “Jonathan Edwards” had had taken on a new identity, and was falsely reported as having been caught by Teddy, himself:

An Incorrigible Bear.

“Teddy Roosevelt” the Terror of the New York Zoo.
About six months ago, when Vice President Roosevelt presented the Bronx Park Zoo with a tiny black bear that he had caught alive on his last mountain lion hunt, the little fellow was a very well-behaved youngster, very shy, afraid that everything would eat him . . . . But things have changed.

Since those days “Teddy Roosevelt,” as the bear is called, has grown into quite a big boy.  He has learned the way of the Zoo and hits crowds, and has gotten “the swelled head” about something or other. . . .

“Teddy Roosevelt” seems to be doing everything in his power to disgrace his illustrious namesake, for he has become so mischievous a scamp that even the blacksnake whip is beginning to dwarf in his estimation, for to cut through Teddy’s thick coat with a mere blacksnake whip is something like trying to knock remorse into a hair mattress. . . .

[When the keepers put two young bear cubs in the same cage,] Teddy did not like the “kid” play around him. . . . So one morning he went up behind one of the little bears, named Bounce, and hit her in the back.  Bounce is the better half of the young pair.  The name of the boy-bear is Towser.  Bounce was much frightened when she was “clouted,” and more so still when she saw Teddy standing over her with open mouth.  Keeper Hoey had seen the performance.  He ran to his room to get the blacksnake whip and before Teddy ahd fully made up his mind what to do to Bounce, the keeper was inside the den and was “laying it on thick” all over Teddy.  Teddy thought quickly, and retired.

The Washington Times (Washington DC), August 4, 1901, Part 2, page 4.

          “Teddy the Bear” - Gift of the Rough Riders:

A fourth bear named “Teddy” took up residence in Washington DC in early 1903.  The bear was a gift to the President from a group of former Rough Riders:

Teddy the Bear Will Live in Washington Zoo.

Phoenix, Ariz. May 26. - The attempt to formally present “Teddy” to “Teddy” failed, for the railroad companies could not devise ways and means for transporting a bear through Arizona.  Dick Hartman, rough rider, and pronounced admirer of “Colonel” Roosevelt, has brought “Teddy,” the bear, to Phoenix, however, and it will be sent by the president’s frank to the zoo at Washington, where the chief executive will see his gift from Arizona for the first time upon his return to that city.

The Spokane Press (Washington), May 26, 1903, page 2.

               The Tragic Death of “Teddy Bruin”

A fifth bear named Teddy made headlines in New York City in early 1903, at about the same time the Michtoms are said to have sold their first stuffed bear in Brooklyn.  “Tragedy” struck the acting world when “Teddy Bruin” – a promising, young acting bear – was dead.  His life and untimely death were chronicled in maudlin terms in the theater section of the New York Times:

 It is doubtful if the audience realized the situation, but the initiated saw three trained bears and a monkey working conscientiously to do their duty by the patrons of the house, though their hearts – for monkeys and bears have hearts – were not in their work.

Teddy, youngest member of the troupe, is no more. . . .

Teddy Bruin – Bruin is the family name, and a long tree attests to Teddy’s noble ancestry – was considered a most promising actor. . . . Overwork weakened him, and a slight cold soon developed into pneumonia, death following.  The arrangements for the funeral will be announced later.  In the death of Teddy the stage has sustained a severe loss and the members of the troupe were unanimous in expressing the opinion that the blow would be hard to bear.

The New York Times, January 6, 1903.

          “Teddy’s Bears” at the Parade (1905):

Toy “Teddy’s Bears” were offered for sale by street vendors at Teddy Roosevelt’s second inauguration parade held on March 4, 1905.  These “Teddy’s Bears,” however, were not the familiar, cuddly stuffed bear; they were wind-up, mechanical dancing bears:

Fakers finding there was no longer a sale for “Teddy’s bear,” photographs of the “big stick,” I’m out on a --- of a time,” and other buttons, decided to put something new on the market.  They did, and the public was almost tickled to death with it. 

Washington Times (Washington DC), March 5, 1905, page 7.  The new thing on the market? – feather dusters.  Buyers used the feather dusters “to tickle the pedestrians ahead.  The feathered end of the stick was placed in the lobe of an ear, down a neck, on a cheek, or under a chin, according to the proximity and the boldness of the handler.”  I’m not sure such a thing would go over well today; outside of Burning Man or The Love Parade.

A sixteen-year-old parade-goer gave a more detailed description of “Teddy’s Bears”:

The air is continually rent with the cries of the fakirs who have everything from souvenir badges to “Teddy’s Bear” for sale.  The latter is an ingenious toy in the shape of a bear, which, when wound up executes a dance that is very amusing. . . .

W. Douglas Hood, Washington, March 4th, 1905. 

The Katonah Times (Katonah, New York), March 17, 1905, page 2.

The existence of wind-up bears called “Teddy’s Bears” does not disprove the existence of stuffed bears called “Teddy’s Bears” at the time.  However, the fact that the description of the bears did not explicitly distinguish the mechanical bears from the stuffed bears may suggest that stuffed bears were not yet in vogue, or were at least not yet commonly known as “Teddy’s bears” or “Teddy bears.”  References to plush “Teddy bears,” by that name, do not appear in print until late 1905.

          “Teddy” - a Bear from Coney Island:

In October of 1905, just one month before the earliest known citation of stuffed bear named, “Teddy Bears” in print, some “paw”-parazzi on Coney Island caught this picture of an animal trainer taking “Teddy,” an actual bear, for a ride:

Brooklyn Life, October 14, 1905, page 12.

One year later, when the country was in the grips of a full-on “Teddy Bear Craze,” a stuffed, plush bear received similar treatment in the backseat of  a chauffeur-driven limousine:

San Francisco Call, November 18, 1906, page 14.

Roosevelt’s Bear Hunting

In 1901, Roosevelt had been well-known for his bear-hunting stories for at least a decade.  An article from 1892 illustrates his penchant for telling bear stories, foreshadows his later involvement in the Bullmoose party, and outlines his sporting philosophy, which explains why, ten years later, he would refuse to shoot a near-dead bear tied to a tree:

Theodore Roosevelt Relates Some Thrilling Stories of Bear Hunts.

The only really dangerous game of the United States is the grizzly bear, says Theodore Roosevelt in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It is true that the cougar will, under very exceptional circumstances, assail the hunter, and so will the bull moose, if his pursuer blunders too near him . . . .  With the grizzly it is different.  Any man who makes a practice of hunting this great shaggy mountain king must make up his mind that on certain occasions he will have to show nerve and good shooting in order to bring down a charging bear. . . . .
A great many bear are killed by trapping.  This is perfectly legitimate if they are being killed as a matter of business for their hides, or for the bounty, or as vermin, but it is not sport at all.  No sportsman has any right to kill a trapped bear and claim the animal as of his own killing.  If he can not shoot one legitimately by still-hunting or in some other lawful kind of chase and has to rely upon his guide setting a rap for the animal, then for heaven’s sake let him hand the guide the rifle and have him finish the work he has begun.  Shooting a trapped bear for sport is a thoroughly unsportsmanlike proceeding, and stands only a degree or two higher than that foulest of butcheries, shooting a swimming deer in the water from a boat.

St. Paul Daily Globe (Minnesota), January 17, 1892, page 11.

Although Roosevelt showed reluctance to shoot trapped bears, he showed no reluctance (at least in his younger years) to threaten or endanger the lives of an employee to get a shot off on a bear:

That’s my bear,” said Roosevelt, “If you shoot it, I’ll shoot you.”

The cowboy turned to look at his employer and found the latter’s rifle leveled at the bear.  Incidentally the cowboy’s head was in the line between the muzzle of Roosevelt’s rifle and the head of bruin showing above the rock.  There was, incidentally, a queer and novel gleam in Roosevelt’s eye – all of which facts impressed themselves upon the rapid cowboy intelligence at a glance.  He lowered his rifle and Roosevelt shot the bear.

Daily Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky), October 13, 1900, Supplement, page 4 (retelling a story of sixteen years earlier).

Shortly before being sworn in as Vice President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt went hunting in Colorado. The hunt did not go exactly as planned, and history nearly lost a future president:

Indianapolis News, January 16, 1901, page 6.

Meeker, Col., Jan. 16. – Theodore Roosevelt had a narrow escape from a wounded grizzly bear.  The party was following the animal, which turned and charged on them.

Roosevelt, who was well in the lead, stood his ground until the magazine of his rifle was empty, then turned and ran.  He stumbled over a rock and fell into the snow.  The grizzly dropped lifeless, not fifteen feet behind him.

The Minneapolis Journal, January 16, 1901, page 6.

A few weeks later, perhaps inspired by Teddy’s he-man antics, the governors of Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee set off on a bear hunt of their own:

Three Governors Will Go Hunting.

Chief Executives of Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee to Emulate Roosevelt.

Republic Special.

Memphis, Tenn., Feb. 20. – The wonderfully thrilling stories of Governor Teddy Roosevelt and his bear hunters are to be laid in the shade in this neck of the woods, because three Southern Governors in one party will swoop down upon the game at Hatchie Coon, forty miles below Memphis, in Arkansas.

The St. Louis Republic (Missouri), February 21, 1901, page 9.

Roosevent went on a successful bear-hunting trip of his own in New Hampshire, a few weeks before he set off for Mississippi:

Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona), August 30, 1902, page 1.

About one month later, Mississippi Governor Longino, one of the governors who had emulated his bear hunting habits the previous year, invited him to go hunting in Mississippi; Roosevelt declined the offer: [vii]

Teddy Cannot Go.
Jackson, Miss., Oct. 31. – Governor Longino has received a telegram from President Roosevelt saying that he will not be able to visit Mississippi and take the expected bear hunt in the delta swamps and cane breaks during his southern trip.

The Salt Lake Herald (Utah), November 1, 1902, page 1.

Instead, Roosevelt planned his own trip at a secret location:

The Butte Inter-Mountain (Montana), November 12, 1902, page 1.

Roosevelt biographer, Edmund Morris, in his book, Theodore Rex, believes that one reason for keeping the location of his hunting camp a secret was that his local hosts were worried about an assassination attempt, based on Roosevelt’s generally progressive (for his time) race policies. 

Early in his presidency, Roosevelt was castigated in the South for inviting a black man to dine with him in the White House; in the presence of his wife and children even (Gasp! Clutch pearls).  His dinner with Booker T. Washington, President of the Tuskeegee Institute, is believed to have been the first time that a President of the United States had ever dined with a black man in the White House..   Shortly before the bear hunt, he had also angered Southern leaders by appointing a black man to the position of Customs Inspector of Charleston, South Carolina, the traditional cradle of the Confederacy.  Some Northerners, willing to sacrifice principle for political expediency, were also critical of the appointment of a black man in a region where the white electorate would not tolerate it.

The racial tensions in Mississippi, and Roosevelt’s position on the issue, were starkly revealed less than two months later.  Minnie Cox, a black woman serving as Postmaster in nearby Indianola, Mississippi, was hounded out of town by local whites unhappy about having to deal with an “uppity” Postmaster. 

Minnie Cox, St Louis Republic (Missouri), January 11, 1903, page 1.

Minnie Cox tendered her resignation in fear for her life.  The mayor of Indianola even stated publically that if she came back too soon, “she would get her neck broken inside of two hours.”[viii]  

Roosevelt refused to accept her resignation; instead, closing the post office and forcing the locals to pay extra to receive their mail from Greenville, twenty-five miles away; and to drive twenty-five miles out of their way to access other postal services.  When her term expired in early 1904, she refused reappointment, recommending, instead, a white man who had worked under and supported her during the original crisis.  Despite Roosevelt’s earlier support, she may still have been in danger.

Reporters trying to track down Roosevelt’s secret hunting location ran across more chilling evidence of the reign of terror that kept the “Jim Crow” South the “Jim Crow” South:

One of the newspaper men tried to bribe a negro to show him the way to the president’s camp.  He offered the negro $25.
“’Deed, mistah,” responded the negro, “I wouldn’t take you out there for a million dollars.  Mister Mingum said that any of us who took white men there would be shot or hung, and I ain’t goin’ to take no chances.”

The Minneapolis Journal, November 15, 1902, page 15.

In a year in which Mississippi suffered a reported fourteen lynchings,[ix] what might be considered an exaggerated, jocular threat elsewhere, was not something to be taken lightly.

Secrecy, however, did not make for a successful hunt:

Yesterday’s Hunt.
The President Refuses to Shoot a Roped Bear.

Smedes, Miss., Nov. 15. – A lean black bear, which weighs 235 pounds, is hanging up at President Roosevelt’s camp on the Little Sunflower, but to the regret of all the members of the party, the first trophy of the hunt did not fall to the president’s Winchester.

The poor beast was chased until it was too exhausted to make much of a fight, but he grabbed one of the hounds by the neck, killing it instantly.

As the bear was making a swipe with his pay, at another dog, Holt Colier jumped from his horse, and, clutching his rifle, knocked the bear over with a blow on the head.  Then he blew his horn in token that the chase had been brought to bay.  A messenger was sent back for the president.  Meanwhile Holt roped the bear and tied him to a tree.

When the president arrived he would neither shoot it nor permit it to be shot.

“Put it out of its misery,” said he to Mr. Parker, and the latter ended its life with his knife.

The Minneapolis Journal (Minnesota), November 15, 1902, part 1, page 14.

Cartoon Bears
Berryman’s Bear
Clifford K. Berryman, political cartoonist for the Washington Post, drew the first in his long series of bear cartoons the day after President Roosevelt famously refused to shoot the roped and injured bear in Mississippi. Roosevelt biographer, Edmund Morris, sees the cartoon as a “visual pun linking the incident with the President’s race policy.”[x]  The caption, “drawing the line,” at shooting a trapped black bear, appears to be a metaphor for his refusal to figuratively “draw the [color] line” in the South.

While clever, perhaps, and memorable, years later Berryman claimed that his first bear was the result of spilled ink:

Evening Star (Washington DC), January 24, 1907, page 16.

Bear Grows from Ink Blot.

Have you any idea how the bear came into existence? Almost like all creations which have brought fame to their creators, Mr. Berryman’s “Teddy Bear” was an accident pure and simple.  The cartoonist was drawing a picture of the president in the cane brakes of Mississippi.  It was full of life and color, the president, in hunting costume, ready to meet bruin at any stage of the proceedings.  The picture was finished when wholly by accident a great drop of ink fell on the cardboard and splattered about, much resembling the outlines of a bear.  Rather than take the trouble of erasing the ink blotch, Mr. Berryman put a head on the black spot, and thus the bear that has made the cartoonist famous was born.

Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska), January 7, 1907, page 1.

Despite, or because of the political undertones of the first cartoon, the little bear was well-received.  Soon, Berryman was drawing a new bear almost every day, “usually express[ing] the things that are in the president’s mind.”[xi]

The bear was popular enough by February of 1903 that it was newsworthy when the President met the cartoonist face-to-face; the President also voiced some regret over the real bear’s death:

President and Cartoonist.

President Roosevelt’s failure to kill a bear on his recent hunting expedition into Mississippi continues to be a matter for almost daily jest at the White House.  Lest he forget bruin’s discretion and complete triumph, a diminutive major ursa has for some time occupied a prominent place in nearly every cartoon published by the Washington Post.  It is a pitiable little bear with big, innocent eyes, which are cast furtively at the president when he is the subject of the cartoon, and at other times a bear whose eyes seem filled with an unknown fear.

This miserable cub has afforded the president lots of fun and has also had the effect of cooling his ardor for the chase.  At one of the White House receptions Mr. Berryman, the cartoonist, was present, and as he passed with others in front of the president and the receiving party Mar. Roosevelt grasped him by the hand and personally introduced him to Mrs. Roosevelt as “the bear man,” acknowledging at the same time the amusement which the daily appearance of the bear had caused him, following it with this confession:

“You know,” said he, “a feeling of pity comes over me after I have had my laugh, and I don’t believe I could find it in my heart ever to kill another bear.” – New York Times.

Paducah Sun (Kentucky), February 10, 1903, page 3.

The fact that the New York Times article does not call the bear a, “Teddy” bear, suggests that, as of early 1903, the name had not yet stuck, or was at least not yet ubiquitous.

Even if there were people calling the bear, “Teddy’s” bear or “Teddy” bear in early 1903, the term was not universal.  The earliest reference to a name for Berryman’s bear that I have seen, in fact, calls the bear “Johnnie Bear”:

Berryman’s Bear.

Readers of the Washington Post all over the country have been tickled and bored by the insistent appearance of the little bear in the Post’s cartoons.  Mr. Berryman, the cartoonist for the Post, made a tremendous hit with his bear, but had no intention of working the little fellow so hard.  Mrs. Berryman urged his retirement to the scrap basket at an early date, but the Berryman baby sobbed frantically whenever a cartoon was evolved without “Johnnie Bear” in a conspicuous place.

The Salt Lake Herald, April 12, 1903, page 6.

Johnny Bear

In an alternate universe, if Teddy Roosevelt had not become President, and if stuffed, plush bear toys had become the rage anyways, stuffed bears might have been named “Johnny Bears.” “Johnny Bear,” was a well-known character in an illustrated children’s book during the early days of the 1900s.  The name was so well-known that some people referred to plush bear toys as, “Johnny Bears,” even several months into the “Teddy Bear Craze”:

5000 Johnny Bears

Just Here from Germany

This is news that will be welcomed from one end of New York City to the other, and for a hundred miles around.  Little folks who have been hunting everywhere for these new nursery pets have found it impossible to secure them.  Weeks ago we hurried our order to the German maker, and today 5,000 Johnny Bears are ready – half of them in New York, half of them in our Philadelphia Store.

New York Tribune, September 20, 1906, page 5.

The name Johnny Bear appears to be a vestige of a popular children’s story written and illustrated by Ernest Thompson-Seton, a naturalist for the government of Manitoba, Canada.  

ERNEST SETON-THOMPSON'S story, "Johnny Bear," tells of the author's acquaintaince with a little bear and its mother in Yellowstone Park; and their curious individuality and experience make the theme of one of Mr. Seton-Thompson's best stories.  Fully illustrated by the author.

Evening Star (Washington DC), November 28, 1900, page 10.

Ernest Thompson Seton, Canada West Magazine, Volume 3, Number 3, January 1908, page 233.

 The “Johnny Bear” story first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in 1900, and was later published in book form in 1902.  Thompson went on nationwide lecture tours, where he read his stories to large, attentive crowds:

“Johnny Bear” is a tale founded on a study of Bruin in Yellowstone National Park.  The author in his recent lectures in Indianapolis told the story to several thousand children, and it was so interesting not one stirred during its recital.

The Indianapolis Journal, January 5, 1902, part 3, page 2.

“Johnny Bear” was based on observations he made of bears scavenging through garbage piled up behind the Fountain Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.

The “Johnny Bear” story seems to have achieved a certain level of success and name-recognition.  There are several examples of people borrowing the name, “Johnny Bear,” to refer to actual or fictional bears:

Bears there [(in Duluth)] are up there a-plenty, a mother and two cubs coming into the very city on a tour of investigation not long ago.  The “Johnny Bears” played on a lawn while the mother kept watch and the neighbors bolted and barred their doors and windows and sent for the police.

The Minneapolis Journal, October 4, 1902, page 24.

Here [(in Yellowstone)] we saw a little bear, which we thought might have been “Johnny Bear,” of which Thompson Seton writes.

The Minneapolis Journal, October 11, 1902, Junion Section, page 8.

Crunchy Grape Nuts used “Johnny Bears” to warn us of the dangers of eating soggy food:

St. Paul Globe (Minnesota), September 2, 1903, page 3.

Little Johnny Bear was caught in a cave in a dark canyon – the arroyo Alimos, they call it, in Northern Chihuahua.  His mother was shot by one of Colonel Greene’s party before it was discovered that there was a baby bear in the cave.  Johnny was promptly adopted and rode to camp sitting on his dead mother, whose carcass was thrown across a mule.  Anything and every thing seems to suit Johnny Bear . . . .

New York Tribune, May 25, 1905, page 9.

The old bear will often leave her cubs and go away for hours, and expect to find them just where she left them when she returns.

Perhaps, when she goes away, she says to them: “Now, Johnny Bears, I am going after a young pig,and I do not want you to stray from home while I am gone.”

Farm and Home, Western Edition, Volume 28, Number 579, July 15, 1902, page 410.

Topeka State Journal (Kansas), September 18, 1905, page 8.

“Johnny” and “Teddy” bears could even share top billing, as in this excerpt from an 8th grader’s story published in 1904:

Johnny and Teddy Bear were halooing and throwing their bright red tams into the air.

Minneapolis Journal, November 5, 1904, page 6.

The “Teddy Bear” Craze

“Teddy Bears,” plush, stuffed toy bears, became a common household item, and well-known term, during the “Teddy Bear Craze” of 1906.  The foundations for the phrase had been laid during the Christmas season for 1905, when the demand for the bears outstripped supply:

Toy Department.

Attention is called to a new invoice of the popular 
“Teddy Bear.”

The demand for this toy at Christmas exceeded our stock on hand and we ordered another lot, which we have just received.

Evening Star (Washington DC), February 14, 1906, page 8.

The bears had been available, under that name, even before Christmas:

"Teddy" bears holding little cubs in their arms like real mothers are the latest arrivals; be sure to see them; see all other things as they come along, but most are already here.

Post Standard (Syracuse, New York), November 20, 1905 (Identified by Sam Clements, and posted on the American Dialect Society ADS-Listserve message board in 2009).

If the name was not widely reported, or even common yet, at the end of 1905, that would soon change.  The first week of 1906 brought the debut of “The Roosevelt Bears,” a nationally syndicated, weekly series of illustrated stories about the adventures of two Colorado bears, “Teddy-B” (black bear) and “Teddy-G” (grizzly bear), who dressed like Teddy Roosevelt: 

Minneapolis  Journal, January 3, 1906, page 14.

Collections of The Roosevelt Bear stories were published in book form at least four volumes, “The Roosevelt Bears; Their Travels and Adventures” (1906), “More About the Roosevelt Bears,” (1907), “Teddy-B and Teddy-G the Roosevelt Bears Abroad” (1908), and “The Roosevelt Bears: Bear Detectives” (1910).  An advertisement for the second volume claimed that the first book had been, “the biggest juvenile success for twenty-five years. 100,000 copies of the first book sold last year”:

The Teddy Bear Craze

Amidst the growing popularity of the dolls, and regular episode of The Roosevelt Bears, there developed a craze for being seen in public with one’s bears.  The craze started in the East and moved westward.  Some suggest that it first took hold as a more macho alternative to dolls for boys.  Later, it spread to girls and even to grown women. In 1906, no one, it seems, went anywhere without their “Teddy” bear; walking around town, going for a drive, or even, A Teddy Bear’s Picnic.  The fad is rumored to have started among society types summering at resorts along the Jersey Shore:

The Teddy Bear Craze in New York

Astonishing Growth of the Latest Fashionable Silly Fad.
The entire country is in the clutches, or rather the embrace, of the plush bear. . . .

The bear rage started at the summer resorts along the Jersey shore – some say it was at Atlantic City.  At any rate, a nice, fat, winsome little bear sitting on a counter in a boardwalk shop attracted the eyes of a youngster . . . .  And the youngster remembered that the Bronx bears had mouths exactly like this one, and even the expression of his face was like the best behaved and finest looking bear at the park.  Mamma must buy Bruin for him. . . .  [S]he finally paid it and the wistful and anxious eyes of her small son and heir fairly beamed with joy as he marched away hugging his prize, just as proudly as a grown-up man or the President of the United States returning from a successful hunt.

San Francisco Call, November 18, 1906.

The “Teddy Bear” fad has struck Minneapolis!

. . . The Teddy-Bear, as a child’s plaything, arrived some time ago.  For several months he has been increasing in numbers and bringing proportionately greater joy to baby hearts, and more numerous smiles to chubby, infant faces. . . .

The manager of the toy department of a big down-town department store said to a Journal reporter today: . . . “When east last summer buying stock, I was actually astounded at the extent to which the Teddy-Bear fad had developed.  I visited Atlantic City, and in a stroll along the famous boardwalk, saw scores of Teddy Bears tucked under the arms of stylishly attired ladies.  The Teddy-Bears were of all sizes, and decorated with fancy ribbons and silver bells.”

Minneapolis Journal, December 4, 1906, page 8.

One man claims to have known precisely who started the craze:

“I happen to know just how the Teddy bear craze started,” said Mr. Alston [(Arthur C. Alston, a New York theatrical manager)], “and the story is rather interesting.  About four years ago, while the country was holding its breath waiting for President Roosevelt to kill a bear on one of his Western hunting trips, and while everybody was talking about Roosevelt and his bear hunting, a party of New York society people desired to spring something new and unique.  And it was suggested ‘giving a bear party.’[xii]

“Some of the men in this particular social set called on an importer of Germany goods and asked if he could get them some bears.  He sent to Germany and had three samples of the bears made.  They arrived too late for the party and the importer threw them aside in his office. Summer came around and the importer’s little niece, Miss Marguerite Miller, was preparing to start to Atlantic City with her mother.  In her uncle’s office one day she located the bears.  She begged for one, and her uncle let her have it.  She carried it to Atlantic City and kept it with her constantly.  It was a beautiful little brown bear, with hair as soft as velvet.  This little girl and her bear were as bad as Mary and her lamb.  They were always together.

“They attracted the attention of the children on the board walk and every youngster wanted one.  Fond mammas importuned the mother of the child with the bear, but she could only give them the address of the child’s uncle in New York, who had imported the bear.  The parents of one child wrote to the uncle begging him for a bear, and he sent one at once.  There then were two Teddy bears on the board walk, and soon some one else got hold of the importer and obtained the remaining bear.

“Some men who were living at Atlantic City then arranged with a dealer at the resort to have a lot of bears imported.  He did so the following summer, and the bears sold like hot cakes.  Then some clever chap named the animals ‘Teddy bears,’ and the craze started in earnest. 

“Miss Miller, who is an excellent little actress, is at present playing an important role in my company presenting ‘At the Old Cross Roads,’ which opens at the Grand theater tonight for a week’s engagement.”

Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), December 15, 1907, Sunday Magazine, page 7.

Notions and Fancy Goods, volume 41, number 5,May 1907, page 35.


It is not clear when or why the earliest stuffed bears were named "Teddy's bears" or "Teddy Bear."  However, the name "Teddy" was used for several actual bears long before Roosevelt's ill-fated Mississippi bear hunting expedition and the cartoon bear it inspired.  Moreover, although both Steiff and the Michtoms are said to have sold stuffed bears successfully by 1903, the earliest example of "Teddy Bear," with reference to a plush, stuffed bear, does not appear in print until late-1905.

During the intervening years, although more live bears named "Teddy" and mechanical toys called "Teddy's bears" made headlines, none of the accounts of those "Teddies" made any sort of knowing reference to stuffed "Teddy Bears."  It seems likely, therefore, that stuffed, plush bears were not commonly known as "Teddy Bears" (much less "Teddy's Bears") until some time in 1905, bringing into question the Michtom's story of the genesis of the name.

It is possible that the Michtoms, or anyone else, might have named their stuffed bears "Teddy," even before they were commonly known as "Teddy Bears."  They could have been named after bears seen at McKinley's inauguration, bears seen in zoos in New York or Washington DC, an acting bear on Vaudeville, the mechanical dancing bears sold at Teddy Roosevelt's 1905 inauguration parade, or after Teddy Roosevelt himself; with or without reference to the Mississippi bear hunt or Berryman's bear.   The Michtom's story also did not appear in print until the 1950s, raising the possibility that fading memory or slick marketing played a role in developing the myth.

But of course, I might be wrong.  You be the judge.  It is at least not as nearly clear-cut as the standard, cute story would have you believe.  The jury is still out.


Morris Michtom, Margarete Steiff, and Theodore Roosevelt have all long-since shuffled off this mortal coil; yet the "Teddy Bear" remains.  Perhaps, as they neared the end, any or all three of them, may have paraphrased Dickens' Sydney Carton:

It is a far, far better thing that I have done, this "Teddy Bear," than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known; I have my "Teddy Bear" to comfort me.

Now, it's Twenty-three, for you; Skidoo!

[i] “Unraveling the Great Teddy Bear Mystery,” Marcelle S. Fischler, The New York Times (Long Island Journal), March 24, 2002 (citing Kathleen Bart, A Tale of Two Teddies, The First Teddy Bears Tell Their True Stories, Cumberland, Maryland, Portfolio Press, 2001).
[ii] Lesley Gordon, Peepshow into Paradise; a History of Children’s Toys, New York, J. de Graff, 1953, pages 151-152 (But although Margarete Steiff undoubtedly designed, among many other animals, a lovable little bear, it has recently been established by Mrs. Marie Matheson, vice-president of the International Doll Collectors, Incorporated, that the original teddy-bear was named by Morris Michtom, a Russian immigrant to America, in honour of Theodore Roosevelt, after the latter had returned from a successful bear-hunt  in the Rockies in 1902.)
[iii] Aberdeen Herald (Wyoming), June 20, 1904, page 3; The New York Times (Long Island Journal), March 24, 2002.
[iv] Identified by Sam Clements, and posted on the American Dialect Society ADS-Listserve message board in 2009; the same ad also appeared two days earlier.
[vi] “Unraveling the Great Teddy Bear Mystery,” Marcelle S. Fischler, The New York Times (Long Island Journal), March 24, 2002 (citing Kathleen Bart, A Tale of Two Teddies, The First Teddy Bears Tell Their True Stories, Cumberland, Maryland, Portfolio Press, 2001).
[vii] Butte Inter-Mountain, November 12, 1902, page 1 (“Hunting with a gallery is not to the taste of a sportsman like President Roosevelt and it was for that reason that he vetoed the hunt to which Governor Longino invited him.
[viii] Morris, Theodore Rex, page 199.
[ix] Woodville Republican (Woodville, Missippi), January 10, 1903, page 2.
[x] Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, New York, Random House, 2001, page 173.
[xi] Omaha Daily Bee (Nebraska), January 7, 1907, page 1.

1 comment:

  1. An original Teddy Roosevelt bear circa 1903. Has been discovered in Dublin, California. Hand made by Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, New York. the Michtom's made so few of these first style Teddy's. That they were lost in time . Until Now. My bear is so unique that it took me thirteen years of research. to solve this mystery. and I did. Please see Google + by Robert Csech to read more and to see amazing pictures. Also see Brooklyn, Patch by Robert Csech