Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Cute and cuddly, teddy bears today are made in all materials and styles. But, the original teddy bear design was actually a piece of velvet sewn into the shape of a bear with shoe button eyes.

The very first teddy bear was sewn overnight by Rose Michtom. The doll was her husband Morris’ idea after he read an article about President Teddy Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear cub that his hunting partners had tied to a tree after a fifth unsuccessful day of hunting. Roosevelt refused to partake in such an unsportsman-like act, and his act was publicized by the cadre of journalists who accompanied him.

Like many others, Morris Michtom was touched by Roosevelt’s act of kindness and moved by the idea of the innocent bear, particularly after he saw cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s image of Roosevelt turning his back on a bear tied at the neck.

The first doll was placed in the window of the Michtoms’ Brooklyn candy and novelty shop with the label “Teddy’s bear.” It was sought after almost immediately and, by the end of the day, Michtom had orders for a dozen more. Michtom, who was born in Russia in 1870 and had come to America at age 17, wanted to make certain that the president would not be insulted. He sent the original doll (which is now on display in the Smithsonian) as a gift to the Roosevelt children with a note asking for permission to call it “Teddy’s Bear.”

Rose and Morris eventually closed their candy shop in order to focus on their bears. They opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company in 1907. In addition to the millions of teddy bears they eventually sold, the Michtoms’ company also produced dolls and games. Ownership of Ideal Novelty and Toy Company remained in the Mitchom family until the 1970s.

The Mitchoms, both of whom were Russian Jewish immigrants, gave back to the community after their success. They were active supporters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish National Fund and other similar organizations.

Today’s Treat was written in honor of Teddy Bear Picnic Day.

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