On February 15, 1903, the first Teddy bear went on sale at a toy store in Brooklyn. The name ‘Teddy’ was borrowed from the nickname of then president, Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy bears have since become one of the most popular stuffed animal gift items to signify love, congratulations, or sympathy.
Roosevelt traveled to Mississippi in November of 1902 to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. After the issue was resolved, Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition to relieve stress. In this famous incident, Roosevelt’s hunting guides had tied an injured black bear to a tree for him to kill. Though the details about the incident are unclear – like the age of the bear or the exact reason behind Roosevelt’s reaction – the most popular consensus is that upon seeing the bear, Roosevelt said he did not hunt prey who could not fight back and let the bear go. Clifford Berryman, who was a political cartoonist, witnessed the incident and based what was to become an extremely popular cartoon off the event. He titled it “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” and it featured Roosevelt in hunting garb ordering a small bear cub to be released. It was published in the Washington Post a few days later, and the name ‘Teddy bear’ was spawned from this.
Morris and Rose Mitchom were toy store owners and inventors who owned a small store in Brooklyn. Inspired by the popular cartoon, the two decided to create a replica of the bear in the cartoon and dubbed it ‘Teddy’s bear.’ Because they feared the president would be offended by the use of his name in correlation with a stuffed toy, they wrote and asked his permission. Several months later, the president finally responded, giving the Mitchoms permission but also expressing his doubt that the name would actually boost sales. He was wrong.
They displayed two bears Rose sewed in the window and both were snatched up in no time. People were soon requesting more be made, and the ecstatic Mitchoms promised to produce more. After a while, they began solely producing the popular toy. Roosevelt and the Republican party adopted the bear as their campaign symbol in 1904, and they were displayed at all White House functions. The original teddy bear is now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.