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The Steiff Teddy Bear Story

In 1847 in a small town in Giengen, Germany a baby girl was born. She was named Margaret Steiff. Her childhood vigor was cut short when she contracted polio at the age of 2. Although confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she became a model for strength and determination.

Margaret excelled in sewing and needlework and became the proud owner of the first sewing machine in Geingen. In 1879, she started her dressmaking business. Her dresses, coats and other clothing products were quickly in demand. In December of that year she came across a pattern for a toy elephant in a magazine. She made these as gifts for her family and close friends. Margaret used her expertise to develop other animal patterns and 1883 added them to her price list as a range of felt items. Her business continued to grow and in 1892 she began making soft filled bears, which would later be referred to as Teddy Bears. These bears resembled real bears, posing on all four paws with humped backs.

Richard Steiff, Margaret's nephew, helped his aunt with design and production of her teddy bears and soft filled animals. An avid art student, he was a regular visitor of the Stuttgart Zoo where he got ideas for animal designs. While touring America, Richard was inspired for a new design during a circus performance. The dancing bears gave him the idea of designing a toy bear which stood upright and was jointed, similar to how dolls were made.

By 1902 the inspiration was reality and Margaret was producing a jointed soft filled teddy bear with mohair plush fur and glass eyes. They were the first jointed teddy bears produced.

In 1903 Richard displayed the new bears at the Leipzig Toy Fair. Unfortunately they didn't generate much interest in the Europeans. As Richard was packing up his display at the end of the fair, American Hermann Berg chanced by his booth. Berg was a buyer for the New York firm Geo Borgfeldt and Company. At about this time in America the story of Theodore Roosevelt's 'Teddy's Bear' was becoming popular. Berg placed an order for 3,000 bears.

By 1904 the Steiff teddy bear had become an American success. They were awarded various accolades including the prestigious Grand Prix award. In total 12,000 bears were sold by the end of 1904 with the trademark button in the left ear.

Publicity from Roosevelt's adventure helped place teddy bears in the hearts of Americans where they remain today. The world record price for an antique bear was made at a December 1994 auction. The winning bid was $176,000.00 for a 1905 Steiff bear. Steiff teddy bears continue to leave their marks today in the hearts of collectors and teddy bear lovers alike.

Submitted by:

Sharon Lauer

Sharon Lauer is the marketing director for www.everyoccasiongiftshop.com and www.simplythebestbaskets.com. Reprints of this article are eagerly accepted if the information in this author's box is included.



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