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The Original Teddy Bear

Lawrence Bush
December 29, 2017

On this date in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to cartoonist Clifford Berryman praising his Washington Post portrayal of Roosevelt refusing to shoot a small bear. The cartoon was based on an actual incident in which Roosevelt, a prodigious hunter, had refrained from killing a cornered young bear in Mississippi. Berryman’s drawing inspired Brooklyn candystore owners Morris and Rose Michtom to create the “Teddy Bear,” which Rose shaped out of plush velvet with shoe-button eyes. They offered it in the window of their store for $1.50 and received a dozen orders on the first day. Though the Michtoms were unable to patent their doll, its wild success permitted them to launch the Ideal Toy and Novelty Company, which became the largest doll-maker in the company and remained in the family’s hands until it was acquired by CBS in the 1970s. The Michtoms’ original Teddy Bear is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

““Now that I’m all grown up, I can buy any old Teddy Bear I want — except the old Teddy Bear I want.” — William Sternman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.