[Ads-l] slight antedating of Teddy Bear

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 23 17:04:23 EST 2017

In January 2016, Sam Clements reposted a reference<http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2016-January/140569.html> to what seems to be the earliest known use of "Teddy Bear" in print, from an advertisement in The Syracuse Post-Standard, November 20, 1905.


I've found the same advertisement in the same paper two days earlier, and a different Syracuse paper six days earlier.

“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.

Syracuse Herald, November 14, 1905, page 7.

I just posted a new piece on the history of "Teddy Bear," the word and the toy.

The standard origin-story credits Rose and Morris Michtom of Brooklyn, who saw a political cartoon memorializing a Teddy Roosevelt bear hunt, in which he famously refused to shoot a captured, injured young bear tied up for his killshot.  The Michtoms made a toy copy of the cartoon bear cub, sent a letter to Roosevelt asking for permission to use his name, it was an "immediate success" and the rest is history.  No contemporary evidence supports their claim, although they were manufacturing Teddy bears by 1907, and their company grew into the Ideal Toy Company, one of the largest toy companies in the world.

Margarete Steiff's company in Germany has contemporary documentation from business records and her diary that places their "invention" of what would later be called "Teddy Bear" in 1902, a few months before Roosevelt's bear hunt.  They received their first large order for the bears from an American buyer at the Leipzig toy fair in about March 1903, a few months after Roosevelt's bear hunt and a couple months after legend has it the Michtoms placed their first "Teddy Bears" on sale.

A problem with the Michtoms' story is that the earliest known reference to "Teddy Bear" in print, with reference to a stuffed, toy bear, is late-1905, so their teddy bears do not seem to have been the "immediate success" as it is generally characterized.  There was, however, a reference to two kinds of "Teddy's bears" sold at Roosevelt's early 1905 inauguration - one referred to buttons with an image of a bear (perhaps the famous cartoon image) and the other to a mechanical "dancing bear."  The mechanical bear is not described, but there were cast-iron dancing bears as early as 1901, and there were mechanical bears with faux fur in existence before the famous bear hunt.  Also, several actual bears were named for Roosevelt, even before the famous bear hunt.

So it is not clear that the Michtoms' purported decision to call them "Teddy Bears" had any real effect on the ultimate name, or whether they made and named the bear as early as they claim.

I've laid out a lot of the evidence, one way or another, in two blog posts:

Most recent:
Hunting down the Origin of "Teddy Bear"<https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2017/11/margarete-steiff-morris-michtom-and.html>

Last year:

A Grizzly History and Etymology of "Teddy Bears"<https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/02/teddy-roosevelt-and-his-bears-grizzly.html>

Peter Reitan

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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