Monday, May 9, 2016

"Teddy Bears" and "Teddies" - the Surprisingly Literal Etymology of "Teddies" Lingerie

Two Types of Teddy Bears

In 1906, stuffed “Teddy Bears” changed the toy industry. Although they had been made as early as 1902, there is no evidence of their being sold under the name, “Teddy Bear,” until late-1905.  The full-on Teddy Bear-craze did not take hold until the spring of 1906.  The name is a reference to President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s decades-long fondness for bear hunting.  Many accounts point to a particular failed bear-hunting incident in November 1902, when Roosevelt gallantly refused to shoot a captive, injured bear presented to him for the kill-shot [(It’s good to be the King)].

In 1913, women stuffed into “Teddy Bear” undergarments (now generally called, “Teddies”) changed the lingerie industry.  These new “Teddies” featured bottoms and tops combined into a single piece.  Although the name has long been considered an obvious allusion to “Teddy Bears,” the precise imagery was unclear.  Did it refer to the shape of the garment, the cuddliness of someone in the garment, the look of a woman wearing the garment – with “articulated” arms and legs sticking out from a central body, like a Teddy bear? 

While it seems possible that any one, or all, of those images may have played a role in making the name resonate with the public; the initial impulse to use the name may have been more straightforward.  “Teddy Bear” undergarments may have been designed and named by a Chicago clothing manufacturer named Theodore Bear – “Teddy Bear.”

Dry Goods Reporter (Chicago), May 2, 1915, page 28.

Theodore Bear

Theodore Bear was born in Germany in about 1864.  At some point, he went into business with his brothers, as the Bear Brothers of Cincinnati, Ohio.  By 1908, he was in business for himself in Chicago, Illinois, as a maker of “Infants’, Children’s and Misses’ Wear.” 

Dry Goods Reporter (Chicago), Volume 38, Number 4, November 7, 1908, page 87.
New York Tribune, February 3, 1920, page 16.

He claims to have been the first manufacturer in the United States to use electric sewing machines to make children’s clothes. [i]

The serendipitous similarity between his given name and the newly famous “Teddy Bears” drew attention from the press on occasion:

“Theodore Bear,” said the clerk, calling the name of a venireman who lives at 3023 Grand boulevard.

“Present,” said Mr. Bear.

“Here’s where I make the Chief Justice a present of a teddy bear,” said the clerk, fully appreciating the vast mirthful deviation.

Chicago Inter-Ocean, June 9, 1908, page 1.

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 14, 1910, page 10.

Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona), March 13, 1912, page 4.

People in his trade recognized his good fortune:

Sometimes a name is in itself an advertisement for a man.  We congratulate Theodore Bear, of Chicago, upon the combination of publicity, popularity and peculiarity which clusters about his name.  It seems that he sells women’s and children’s garments.

Boot and Shoe Recorder, Volume 61, May 15 1912, page 21.

Theodore Bear, himself, was not shy about trading on the notoriety of his name.  He sold a line of children’s clothes under the “Teddy Bear” name, [ii] and put his head on top of a “Teddy Bear” body in some of his ads.

“Teddy Bear” chemises, under that name, first appeared on the market in about 1913:

The Herald News, (Newberry, South Carolina), January 17, 1913.
The idea of combining tops and bottoms was not new:


A woman of my acquaintance who is too fleshy to suit the demands of the fashionable figure, has for years had her corset cover and short knee skirts cut in one piece, not because it was the fashionable thing to do, but merely because it was more comfortable . . . .

These new combination sets are variously known as "Princess" and "chemisettes." The corset cover is attached to the short knee skirt or the drawers, that are made quite full and quite resemble a skirt, but are usually made open.

Minneapolis Journal, April 15, 1906, Women's Section, Page 4.

There seems to have been a further development in combination sets in the mid-1910s.  As skirts inched upward, silhouettes inched inward,  and the country inched closer to full suffrage, new items appeared on the market under cumbersome names like, chemipantaloon, envelope chemise, and combination knickerbocker-corset cover:

The Evening World (New York), October 20, 1913, page 7.

It's not clear what was particularly distinctive about Theodore Bear's designs; but it's no wonder the name “Teddy” outlasted them all:

The Pensacola Journal (Florida), June 21, 1914, section 2, page 3.
For more details about the early days of “Teddy Bear” garments, and Teddy Roosevelt’s other connections to toys and the fashion world, see my earlier post, Bears, Bunnies, Blue and Lacy Lingerie – Teddy Roosevelt’s Contributions to Playtime and Fashion.

When creditors forced Theodore Bear into involuntary bankruptcy in 1922, he blamed his financial troubles on fierce competition in the women’s underwear business – everyone else, it seems, had knocked off his “Teddy Bear”:

Chicago, March 10. – Competition has proved the death of trade for Theodore Bear, the inventor of that frivolous garment known to women as the “Teddy Bear.”  Bear is a manufacturer of women’s lingerie.  The “Teddy” made an immediate hit and Bear’s shop was swamped with orders.  There was no part of the garment that was patentable, however, and soon other manufacturers began to turn out Bear’s pet in large quantities.

The “Teddy” became nationally famous almost over night.  Business was rushing for Bear, but when the imitators got busy, Bear’s business languished.

Now, according to bear, every manufacturer in the country is making them, and he has been forced to the wall.

Yesterday, his creditors went into Federal Court with a petition in involuntary bankruptcy.  The creditors say Bear’s assets will cover his liabilities in just about the same proportion as a “Teddy Bear” covers its wearer – 33 1-3 per cent.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 10, 1922, page 1.

The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida), March 10, 1922, page 1.

I wouldn’t lose any sleep over his misfortune, however.  In 1914 and 1915, Theodore Bear was the lead creditor in at least two involuntary bankruptcy petitions against people who owed him money.  He was a shrewd businessman – no “Teddy Bear.”

Upon his death, twenty years later, reports surfaced that he had also played a role in creating the original, stuffed “Teddy Bear”: 

Washington Court House Record-Herald (Washington Court House, Ohio), November 20, 1940, page 1.

Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), November 22, 1940, page 15.

At first blush, the report seems like a simple journalistic mistake; conflating the “Teddy Bear” chemise with stuffed “Teddy Bears.”  According to a New York Times editorial, however, it was Theodore Bear’s son who made the claim:

Editorial Comment
Who Invented the “Teddy Bear”?
From the New York Times.

Those who remember [the early 1900s] must have felt a tug at their hearts when they read this week of the death of Theodore Bear, a Chicago toy manufacturer.  They must also have wondered a little as they noted the statement made by the dead man’s son that Mr. Bear introduced in 1905 the toy since known to millions of children as the Teddy Bear.

The Index Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), November 26, 1940, page 4.

The editorial did not directly challenge the son’s claim that the elder Bear introduced and named the stuffed bear; but nevertheless gave credit for creating the image of the “Teddy Bear” to someone else; Washington Post cartoonist, C. K. Berryman, who created a cartoon bear character for a cartoon that appeared the day after President Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a captive, injured bear.

Within weeks of those reports, reports surfaced that the son of another successful, European, immigrant businessman claimed that his father created and named of the “Teddy Bear” in 1902:

Well, about six weeks ago a man named Theodore Bear died in Chicago.  He was 76 years old, and was credited with being the man who first thought up the teddy-bear.

But there are other claimants to this honor.  Two years ago there died in New York a man named Morris Michtom, who all his life insisted that he was the one who originated and popularized the teddy-bear.  His sons, who inherited his toy business, persist in this claim, and they will tell you today, if you go out to their home, or to any of their three factories, that Michtom pere was really the daddy of the toy teddy-bear.

Panama City News-Herald (Florida), Janary 1, 1941, page 4 (This report, from George Tucker’s syndicated column, Man About Manhattan, appeared in numerous newspapers across the country).


It seems likely that Theodore Bear designed and named the original “Teddy Bear” undergarment; other Teddy Bear-related imagery may have helped make the name stick.  It also seems likely, if not certain, that Mr. Bear used the name “Teddy” to take advantage of the similarity between his name and the recently famous stuffed “Teddy Bears.”  His son’s claim that he was responsible for introducing stuffed “Teddy Bears” in 1905, on the other hand, seems unlikely.  He was known only as a clothing manufacturer during the 1900s and 1910s; the claim of his having created “Teddy Bears” came out years later.

The original, stuffed “Teddy Bears” were certainly named in honor of President Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt.  The precise order and timing of the creation and naming of the bears, however, is unclear.  Whenever and however the bears were named, the name was not really novel or surprising.  Long before either Steiff or Michtom designed or built their first bears; and long before Roosevelt’s ill-fated hunting trip; several actual, living bears named “Teddy” or “Theodore” (in honor of Roosevelt) were in zoos in New York City and Washington DC; and two bears called “Teddy’s Bears” were featured in McKinley’s second Presidential Inauguration parade in 1901, when Roosevelt was sworn in as Vice President (he assumed the presidency several months later, following McKinley’s assassination). 

In addition, C. K. Berryman’s role in creating a public taste for cute, cuddly depictions of bear cubs may also be over-stated.  Cute, cuddly “Johnny Bear” images were widely known long before Berryman drew his first bear cartoon.  “Johnny Bears” were so well known that some early stuffed bears, as well as Berryman’s own cartoon bears, were sometimes referred to as “Johnny Bears.”  The nearly three-year gap between early-1903 (when both Michtom and Steiff reportedly made or sold their first stuffed bears) and late-1905 (when the term, “Teddy Bear” first appears in print) also raises questions about when and how the new stuffed bears became widely known as “Teddy Bears.” 

For more details on the earlier “Teddy” bears, “Johnny Bear,” and early examples of “Teddy Bear” in print, see my earlier post: Teddy Roosevelt and His Bears – a Grizzly History and Etymology of “Teddy Bears”.  The loose ends may be a subject for another day.

On the left: Johnny Bear - Ernest Seton-Thompson (Scribner's Magazine, Volume 28, Number 6, December1900). 
On the right: Berryman bears.

[i] Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), November 22, 1940, page 15.
[ii] The Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois), March 18, 1911, page 3.

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