This Week in History: February 15, 1903: First Teddy Bear for Sale

On this day, Morris Michtom (1870–1938) put a teddy bear made by his wife, Rose (1867–1937), in the window of their small candy and toy shop in Brooklyn. The rest, as they say, is history. Teddy bears became, and remain, a mainstay for children around the world. In 1907, the couple founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Here’s the needlework connection to this date:

A cartoon depicting President Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a trapped bear during a hunting trip to Mississippi served as inspiration for “Teddy’s Bear.” Rose Michtom created the stuffed “teddy bear” from velvet with shoe-button eyes.

Initial reaction to the bear was amazingly positive—numerous customers wanted to purchase one. Morris, not wishing to offend the president by using his name, contacted Roosevelt. According to several accounts, Roosevelt is said to have replied that he didn’t think his name would help, but the Michtom’s were free to use it.

teddy bear

Teddy bears on display at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, Brighton, East Sussex, England. Photo by Dagmar Scherf/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

The cartoon that started it all was by Clifford Berryman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. The cartoon originally ran in the November 16, 1902, edition of The Washington Post, and you can see it on the Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace website.

One of the original bears was donated to the Smithsonian in 1964. To see it and read about its long journey, visit their website.

And in the September/October 1998 issue, we introduced PieceWork’s traditional American Teddy Bear. Kathy Williams, who was PieceWork’s craft editor, created the bear. Here’s Kathy:

  • Early American teddy bears had a triangular face, wedge-shaped muzzle, humpbacked body, long tapering arms, and unique oval pointed feel. Most had shiny black shoe-button eyes. These bears were not labeled, making identification difficult. A dilapidated teddy bear with early American characteristics that I purchased at a local antiques store was the inspiration for this traditional American Teddy Bear. This obviously well-loved bear (shown at right in the opening photo) had little remaining fur and showed evidence of prior repair work. The use of “sub” or textile waste as stuffing material in the arms and legs and two-toned mohair plush fabric date the bear to during or shortly after World War 1 (1914–1918). By the mid-I920s, American teddy bears had smaller, rounder heads and circular feet. Shoe buttons had been replaced by glass eyes.

Download the digitial edition of the September/October 1998 issue for Kathy’s step-by step instructions and patterns for making the 13-inch (33-cm) bear. Here are the materials needed:

  • Shaggy/plush felt (affiliate link), ¼ yard (0.2 m)
  • Needled cotton batting (affiliate link) or regular felt for paws, feet, and ear lining, 10-inch (25-cm) square
  • Five 35-mm plastic joints
  • Two 9-mm black plastic safety eyes with a hole in the post or two ⅜-inch (1-cm) domed black buttons
  • Sewing thread to match felt
  • DMC size 5 pearl cotton (affiliate link) for nose, 1 skein of Black #310
  • Heavy carpet thread
  • Polyfill stuffing, 12 ounces
  • Sharp scissors
  • Fine-tip permanent marker
  • Handsewing needle such as crewel or sharps, size 10
  • Darning needle
  • Long doll needle
  • Awl or ice pick
  • Chopstick or other stuffing tool

The materials and complete instructions for making the bear’s sweet crocheted collar are below.

teddy bear

The crocheted collar made for PieceWork’s traditional American Teddy Bear. This and opening photo by Joe Coca.

Crocheted Collar

The finished collar is 1¾ x 7 inches (4.5 X 18 cm) and fits a 13-inch (33-cm) bear.

Materials

  • Metal crochet hook #5
  • DMC Pearl Cotton (affiliate link), 1 ball size size 5 Ecru
  • Button for closure

Instructions
Ch 56, turn.
Row 1: Beg in the 11th ch from hook (makes button loop) sc to end of ch, ch 2, turn.
Row 2: Dc in 1st st from hook, dc to end of row, ch 2, turn.
Row 3: Dc in 1st st, *sk 2 sts, ch 2, dc; rep from * to end of row, dc twice in last st, ch 2, turn.
Row 4: *5 dc in sp, sc in dc of previous row; rep from *to end of row, ch 1, turn.
Row 5: On the 5th st in each sp, *sc, dc, dc (make picot ch 3, insert hook at top of dc, sc), dc, sc; rep from * to end of row. Finish off.
Sew a button at the end of the collar opposite the button loop.


Teddy bears rule! I still have my childhood one—well-loved but all in one piece.

While the teddy bear phenomenon began after Weldon’s Practical Needlework ruled the craft world in Victorian England, Weldon’s didn’t neglect the desires of children. You’ll find dolls, dolls’ costumes, and balls to knit and crochet within the pages.

Last but not least: From all of us at PieceWork, Happy Valentine’s Day. We hope it’s filled with sweetness!

—Jeane

Featured Image: The teddy bear on the right purchased at an antiques store was the inspiration for PieceWork’s traditional American Teddy Bear on the left.


Enjoy more handmade toys in these issues of PieceWork!

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