114 years ago today, one of the 20th century’s most endearing and enduring symbols of childhood was born: the teddy bear.
Much has been written about the teddy bear's origin story, teddy bear portraiture and the species of bear that inspired the toy, but there’s room to say more about how the cuddly creatures have made their own mark.
1903: Meet Theodore Roosevelt, the original teddy bear
Owned by The National Museum of American History, this bear was one of the first manufactured by the Ideal Toy Company, owned by Brooklyn toy sellers Morris and Rose Mitchum.
They produced the first bear in 1903, naming it—of course—Theodore Roosevelt. By 1908, the bear had become such a popular toy that “a Michigan minister warned that replacing dolls with toy bears would destroy the maternal instincts in little girls,” writes the museum. The Steiff corporation in Germany was also manufacturing stuffed bears in this period, although they were not sold in America at that time.
This bear was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in January 1964 by descendants of Teddy Roosevelt.
1926: A.A. Milne writes his first book about “Winnie-the-Pooh”
Although Winnie the Pooh walks and talks, it’s very clear that he’s based on a child’s teddy bear, not a real bear. Milne himself acknowledged that the bear was named after his son’s stuffed animal, like the other characters, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger. You might recognize his son’s name, too: Christopher Robin, the human protagonist of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and the subsequent Disney franchise that removed the hyphens from Pooh’s name.
What you might not know is that Christopher Robin’s inspiration for the name “Winnie” came from a real, Canadian bear. Winnie—a female bear, by the way—was named after the Canadian city of Winnipeg. Christopher Robin encountered her at the London Zoo, where she was a star attraction, partly because she was so used to people.
How she made it to London, according to Historica Canada: she came over with her owner Captain Harry Colebourn, who was an Canadian army veterinarian. In 1915, when Colebourn was sent to the front in France, he loaned her to the London Zoo. When he returned and saw how happy she made the people of London, he decided to donate her to the zoo, writes the White River Heritage Museum. That’s where she was seen by Christopher Robin some years later.
The “Pooh” part of Winnie-the-Pooh’s name came from the name of Christopher Robin’s pet swan, Historica Canada writes.
1984: The first teddy bear museum opens
Generations of children have found comfort and friendship in the humble teddy, but it wasn’t until 1984 that a museum dedicated to the toy came into being, in Petersfield, England. It has since closed.
The first teddy bear museum in the United States was located in Naples, Florida and housed the collection of Francis Pew Hayes, who opened the museum in 1990. It closed in 2005 after her death at the age of 85. But today there are teddy bear museums around the world, with many in east Asia, including the Jeju museum in South Korea and the Chengdu Teddy Bear Museum in China. Pictured is the Tateshina Teddy Bear Museum in Japan.
1995: Magellan T. Bear becomes the first bear in space
Magellan flew as the “education specialist” on a February 1995 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
“The bear’s journey was part of an ambitious educational project to stimulate interest in geography, science and social studies,” writes the National Air and Space Museum. “Students and faculty of Elk Creek Elementary School in Pine, Colorado, worked with NASA and Spacelab to have the teddy bear certified for space flight.”
Sadly, he was not included in the NASA mission photo. But he did have more adventures: travelling around the world, visiting the South Pole and going to U.S. Space Camp. After all that hard work, Magellan joined the museum’s crew in May 1998.