On this day in 1903, toy store owner and inventor Morris Michtom places two stuffed bears in his shop window, advertising them as Teddy bears. Michtom had earlier petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for permission to use his nickname, Teddy. The president agreed and, before long, other toy manufacturers began turning out copies of Michtom’s stuffed bears, which soon became a national childhood institution.
One of Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting expeditions provided the inspiration for the Teddy bear. Ironically, though he was an avid conservationist, Roosevelt-led hunting trips often resulted in excessive slaughter, including one African trip during which his party killed more than 6,000 animals for sport and trophies. However, the idea for the teddy bear likely arose out of one of Roosevelt’s more compassionate acts.
Reports differ as to the exact details of the inspiration behind the teddy bear, but it is thought that while hunting in Mississippi in 1902, Roosevelt came upon an old injured black bear that his guides had tied to a tree. (The age, sex and state of health of the bear remain contested.) While some reports claim Roosevelt shot the bear out of pity for his suffering, others insist he set the bear free. Political cartoonists later portrayed the bear as a cub, implying that under the tough, outdoorsy and macho image of Roosevelt lay a much softer, more sensitive interior.