My parents left me one holiday bear under the tree at Christmas time every year until I was about seventeen. So, naturally I have a bunch of them. I have fuzzy affinity for anything “bear” for that reason: Winnie-the-Pooh, Little Bear, Bear in the Big Blue House. I know those are shows BUT they were my shows as a kid. Sure, I graduated high school and no longer get them, but I still appreciate the memories I have with toy bears.
Plushies at Storytime
The story of the Teddy Bear has is all: political intrigue, drama of rags to riches, adventure (albeit anticlimactic, maybe? No?), social justice and did I mention a whole lotta propaganda? It’s all thanks to Teddy Roosevelt. Or, no thanks? Long story short, the Classic Teddy Bear has a story of daddy Warbucks-meets-Annie type of potential. Nobody at the time knew just what the heck they were about to start.
Into the Woods
In the wake of avoiding socio-economical warfare, pertaining to a mining industry in a power struggle, a Mister Theodore Roosevelt decides to take a break. Bear hunting anyone? Long story short, he travels alongside a Black-American gunman, Holt Collier (i.e. a name only a kickass gunman WOULD have) to find his prized bear. A team of hunting dogs catch whiff of a big black bear on D-day who ends up being a little too much for the pups to handle. In a swift match to save his four-legged crew, Holt makes the grim decision to strike the bear’s head with the butt of his gun and it was lights out. By the time Roosevelt catches up to the gunner, the bear’s tied to a tree, surrounded by casualties of dogs. There were 50 of ‘em total. Ultimately Roosevelt decides to not shoot deeming acting otherwise to be “unsportsmanlike.” Now maybe I’m just too young or over-thinking things, but I’m not sure if he chose that word to mean he’d rather not “kick a dead horse” so to speak, or whether he truly saw no fun in his adventure if he couldn’t participate in the action that clearly started without him. NEVERTHELESS! The former worked one way or another in the president’s favor, because come re-election time he’ll help a friend go up against a white-supremist (i.e. James Vardaman) and win a not-so-intimidating popularity contest. All thanks to the Teddy Bear!
Naturally news about Roosevelt not killing a bear goes to press, turns into a cartoon and thus goes …basically viral. Remember that rags-to-riches part I talked about? A married couple of Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York gets a business idea and goes to work. After getting permission to use Roosevelt’s name from the man himself, the wife sews up some velvet and displays the world’s first “Teddy Bear” from their penny-store window. What with recent news about Teddy’s adventure and the appeal of this new soon-to-be toy, the couple from this point on is pretty much set for life. Thus the highly demanded bear ushers in the advent of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.
Where’s INTC today? Thoroughly divided. Well, more like redistributed. After changing quite a few hands, CBS Toys bought it. Then Viewmaster International got it (i.e. View-Master Ideal), and then Tyco Toys got it only to couple with Mattel in the end, leaving some classic remainders with Hasbro (e.g. My Little Pony). I’ll emphasize, most of the company’s listed earlier in this paragraph were pretty much consolidated out of existence. Economy is a very amorphous thing, no? You never know what money’s gonna turn into. (Or who’s holding it.)
I initially knew Theodore Roosevelt had something to do with the creation of the first trademarked Teddy Bear upon approaching this topic. What I didn’t know was all the historical pomp-and-circumstance surrounding the phenomenon. Kind of mind-blowing for me to know now that the name “Teddy Bear” also has all these associations with it: Civil War, confederacy, world war, emigration, propaganda, toys, vacation,
kickass Black gunner etc. –take your pick. Quite fascinating to see how timing both intentional and unintentional helped create something I’ve taken for granted. Now is the Teddy Bear the first bear toy, ever in existence? No clue. I doubt it, since this world is too old for things not to happen at least twice I feel like. But who knows?
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