My Word: Teddy bear

Teddy bears: Their story goes back to US president Theodore Roosevelt.
Teddy bears: Their story goes back to US president Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy bears were once called Roosevelt bears.

The name teddy bears originated in the United States, as you ascertained by reading the first paragraph,

The bears were named after Theodore Roosevelt, who became a United States president.

In the book The Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents (a book I bought in Florida) he said “much has been given us”.

Some said he was given a bear to kill, but he couldn’t do it. Others said an injured bear was let loose in his presence, but he still couldn’t kill it. I wasn‘t there at the time, so go with the story that suits you best.

Apparently, President Roosevelt went to Mississippi at the invitation of the Mississippi governor, Andrew Longino, to settle some dispute between that state and Louisiana.

This is where the story becomes clouded.

Roosevelt was a keen hunter, but he couldn’t find a bear to kill.

One story is that in his absence somebody found a sick bear and bound it to a tree, expecting Roosevelt would shoot the bear. Another story says they found a sick bear that dogs had attacked and invited him to kill it.

A third story says they released a bear cub so Roosevelt would find the bear and shoot it.

Whatever story is correct, Roosevelt couldn’t shoot the bear, saying that would be unsportsmanlike. This all took place near a town called Onward in 1902.

Another person killed the bear with a knife after Roosevelt had left.

But the story surrounding Roosevelt spread.

The Washington Post on November 16, 1902, published a cartoon of Roosevelt looking the other way while a person holds the bear. The bear was a cub. The cartoon was drawn by Clifford Berryman. The cartoon was headlined Drawing the Line in Mississippi.

It was also seen as a criticism of lynching in the south.

Other cartoons depicted something similar and over time a link developed between Theodore Roosevelt and bears.

The New York Times of January 7, 1906, published the story of two bears, nicknamed Teddy B and Teddy G, that by this time were known as the Roosevelt Bears. They were presented to the Bronx Zoo.

Then a New York candy operator, Morris Michtom, put in the window two stuffed bears his wife had made and he asked Roosevelt for permission to call his bears “Teddy’s bears”.

Then, according to the Roosevelt Association, a German company started making stuffed bears, called Roosevelt bears, and the idea worked its way back to the USA, where they were called Steiff bears.

Eventually they become known throughout the world as teddy bears.

My big dictionary says American Stationer of September 22, 1906, says: “Probably no novelty of recent years has been so popular as the Teddy Bears.”

An original Michtom teddy bear is on display at the National Museum of American History.

lauriebarber.com; lbword@midcoast.com.au