Children around the world often receive stuffed animals as one of their first toys – and some even keep their toys well into adulthood! Many also keep or preserve their childhood stuffed animals and teddy bears as gifts for their own kids, reflecting how toys aren’t just for having fun but can also hold deep sentimental value.
While stuffed animals have been around for a long time and are some of the most common toys we see today, no other stuffed animal is as prolific as the ever-popular teddy bear.
The Teddy Bear’s two origins
The teddy bear is typically associated with former US President Theodore Roosevelt – but did you know it actually has 2 origin stories?
The more well-known story is that New York toymaker Morris Michtom created the first teddy bear n 1902 and sought permission from then-President Roosevelt to name it after him. Roosevelt agreed and the rest is history.
Coincidentally at the same time in Germany, esteemed toymakers Margarete Steiff GmbH (now known simply as Steiff) produced a stuffed bear – the latest in their collection of stuffed animals. While Steiff had produced stuffed animals before, their teddy bear was by far the most popular.
Over a century later the teddy bear has gone through some noticeable changes:
- Materials: Teddy bears were originally made from mohair fur which imitated the coarse fur of real animals. Today teddy bears can be found in almost any fabric including velvet, satin, synthetic fur, cotton, denim, and crochet.
- Build: The first teddy bears were built to resemble real bears with longer snouts and smaller eyes. Today they have become cuter with large exaggerated eyes and smaller noses.
- Variations: Travel back in time 100 years and you would see almost entirely brown teddy bears on the shelves. Today teddy bears come in a variety of colours and even patterns from pandas to polar bears to polka dots.
Certain teddy bears have also become cultural icons of their own including Paddington Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the Care Bears. Although these franchises were originally aimed at children they have become beloved by kids and adults alike all over the world.
Famous Teddy Bear brands
Maker: Margarete Steiff GmnH
Year of Make: 1903
Material: Fabric and Metal
Country of Origin: Germany
Originally known as Margarete Steiff GmbH, this German company was founded 1880 and originally manufactured stuffed toys – in fact this Steiff Teddy Bear is the oldest toy in our museum!
Today Steiff makes stuffed toys, stuffed animals, baby products, baby apparel, and of course, teddy bears. While Steiff is still known today for their wide range of stuffed animals, Steiff bears in particular are well-loved worldwide by children and collectors alike.
Steiff craftsman go beyond simply treating the teddy bear as a toy and approach it almost as an art form. Their bears are known for their quality craftsmanship, elevating the humble teddy bear into a showcase of premium materials and artistic design. For example their Teddies for Tomorrow line is made out of alternative eco-conscious materials such as bamboo, hemp, linen, and paper while remaining soft, washable, and durable.
Maker: Merrythought Hygienic Toys
Year of Make: 1940s
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Merrythought is a British company founded 1930 that exclusively focuses on producing stuffed toys and animals with a strong and distinct British identity. All Merrythought toys are handmade in their Shropshire factory making them one of the only remaining British toy companies to produce items locally.
The classic Merrythought teddy bear (like this Teddy Bear in Night Gown) comes with large button eyes, detailed fur, and a ribbon accessory – but Merrythought is also known for its unique Punkie Bear or ‘Punkinhead’ line. Designed with a fluffy tuft of fur at the top of their head, the Punkie Bears were first released in 1949 and have become a popular toy as well as collector’s item since then.
Similar to Steiff, Merrythought has both everyday and limited-edition collector’s bears reflecting how valuable teddy bears are today and how toys can be a window into significant points in time. For example the brand has released several bears commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
Revisit your Childhood Favourites at the MINT Museum of Toys
Visit us at the MINT Museum of Toys to see your favourite and most popular childhood companions like you’ve never seen them before! See vintage teddy bears and more in our Childhood Favourite exhibit which features a dedicated Teddy Bears From Around The World collection.
Book your tickets today to see more unique vintage toys and memorabilia!