One of the world’s most beloved toys was named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, after he refused to shoot a bear during a Mississippi hunting trip in November 1902. During the trip, guides clubbed a bear and tied it to a tree then invited the president to shoot it. Instead, Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman and hunter, declined, saying it would be unsportsmanlike to kill a defenseless animal that way. 

The incident generated national attention and was depicted in a popular political cartoon by Clifford Berryman. (According to some sources, the newspaper cartoon, titled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” was a reference not just to Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot the bruin but also to his handling of a boundary dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. 

Other sources have suggested the cartoon was a comment on the president’s progressive stance on race relations.) Inspired by the cartoon, Brooklyn, New York, shopkeeper Morris Michtom and his wife Rose made a stuffed fabric bear in honor of America’s 26th commander-in-chief and displayed it with a sign, “Teddy’s bear,” in their store window, where it attracted interest from customers. After reportedly writing to the president and getting permission to use his name for their creation, the Michtoms went on to start a successful company that manufactured teddy bears and other toys.

Meanwhile, around the same time the Michtoms developed their bear, a German company founded in 1880 by seamstress Margarete Steiff began making a plush bruin of its own. Designed in 1902 by Steiff’s nephew Richard, who modeled it after real-life bears he’d sketched at the zoo, the mohair bear with jointed limbs debuted at a German toy fair in 1903. 

A buyer for a U.S. toy company placed a large order for the stuffed creatures, and Steiff bears (which in 1906 officially became known as teddy bears) quickly became popular and helped drive an international teddy bear craze. Other companies soon began turning out teddy bears of their own. More than a century later, Steiff continues to make stuffed toy bears, and its vintage teddy bears are prized by collectors, commanding steep prices at auctions.

HISTORY Vault: The Toys That Built America

Explore the little-known stories behind America's most iconic toys and games.