What a whimsical photo postcard! A curly-headed lass giving her beloved Teddy Bear a bath!
Most toy collectors know how the teddy bears craze began in the early 1900s. The stuffed bears rose to popularity after a political cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt showing him sparing a young cub’s life was circulated. The early toymaker history and culture surrounding this still-popular toy is not as widely known. An article entitled “The History of the Teddy Bear,” by Marianne Clay, describes this history:
By 1906, the teddy bear craze was in full swing in the United States. The excitement probably compared to the frenzy for Cabbage Patch dolls in the 1980s and Beanie Babies in the 1990s. Society ladies carried their teddies everywhere, and children had their pictures taken with their teddy bears. President Roosevelt, after using a bear as a mascot in his re-election bid, was serving his second term. Seymour Eaton, an educator and a newspaper columnist, was writing a series of children’s books about the adventures of The Roosevelt Bears, and another American, composer J.K. Bratton, wrote “The Teddy Bear Two Step.” That song would become, with the addition of words, “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”
Meanwhile, American manufacturers were turning out bears in all colors and all kinds, from teddy bears on roller skates to teddy bears with electric eyes. “Teddy bear,” without the apostrophe and the s, became the accepted term for this plush bruin, first appearing in print in the October 1906 issue of Playthings Magazine. Even Steiff, a German company, adopted the name for its bears.
Steiff and Ideal were no longer the only players in the teddy bear business. In America, dozens of competitors sprang up. Almost all of these very early companies didn’t last, with the notable exception of the Gund Manufacturing Corporation. Gund made its first bears in 1906 and is still making bears today.
American teddy bear companies faced stiff competition from all the teddy bears imported from Germany, and many of the U.S. companies didn’t last long. In Germany, toymaking was an old and established industry, and many German firms, such as Bing, Schuco, and Hermann, joined with Steiff in making fine teddy bears.
In England, The J.K. Farnell & Co. got its start; in fact, the original Winnie the Pooh was a Farnell bear Christopher Robin Milne received as a first birthday present from his mother in 1921. Five years later, his father, A.A. Milne, would begin to publish the Winnie-the-Pooh books about his son Christopher’s adventures with his bear and his other stuffed animals. Today you can see the original toys that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh books on permanent display in the Central Children’s Room of the Donnell Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City, while the Pooh books themselves are as popular as ever.
I hope you enjoy this adorable photo!