teddy bear
Once launched, teddy bears became a source of comfort for children, especially during the First World War. Image Credit: Unsplash/Oxana Lyashenko

Have you ever wondered how teddy bears originated and became children’s favourite, and often first, toy? The story begins with a US president, hunting in the American wilderness.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we get to the ‘heart’ of the matter by following the trail of the 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt.

In November 1902, Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi, US, with the sole goal of bagging a black bear. According to a December 2023 report by the US-based Smithsonian Magazine, he spent several days searching the brush but didn’t come across any, until one day, some of his hunting companions found an injured old bear, and managed to tie it to a willow tree.

When Roosevelt arrived at the scene, they suggested this was the perfect time for him to kill the bear and declare his victory. Horrified, the US President refused, saying it was dishonourable for a man to kill a creature so vulnerable. He saw that the bear was in pain, and nearing its death, so he ordered that it be euthanised.

Roosevelt’s act of mercy quickly caught the attention of the press. In the Washington Post, editorial cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman recreated the scene several times. In one cartoon, he depicted a skinny Roosevelt refusing to kill a bear, and in another, a stockier Roosevelt (which was more true to life) standing near a small bear, with wide, innocent eyes and a cherubic face.

A candy store owner in Brooklyn, New York, named Morris Michtom, saw the cute bear cartoon and decided it was an opportunity to cash in. He asked his wife, Rose, to sew a stuffed version of the bear, and they placed it in their shop window.

The bear sold quickly, and Rose made more. Soon, she couldn’t keep up with the demand, and the enterprising couple opened a factory in 1903 to manufacture and sell more bears. Michtom named the products ‘Teddy’s bears’, after Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt. And by 1906, they just came to be known as teddy bears.

Initially, the man who started it all, couldn’t stand the nickname ‘Teddy’ – he once called it an ‘outrageous impertinence’, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. But when Roosevelt saw the popularity of stuffed bears with his namesake, he decided to use it as a mascot in his re-election campaign, and even displayed a Michtom bear at the White House. His presidential seal of approval propelled the bear to further fame, and it sold by the thousands.

Over the next few decades, teddy bears became a source of comfort for children, especially during the First World War. Even soldiers were known for carrying their own teddy bears, tucked into their knapsacks, in war time.

Do you have a favourite bear that you cherished in your childhood? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at games@gulfnews.com.