The President and the Toymakers

Seated in Sherborne Abbey by K. M. Lockwood
There was no way I would do a Day-after-St.Valentine's-Day post - so I had a hunt round for anniversaries for 15th February. I chanced on this one:

1903  1st Teddy Bear introduced in America, made by Morris & Rose Michtom

Few creations have been so beloved by children (and adults) so this had to be looked into.

Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, published in Washington Post, 1902
The President of the US in 1902 was Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt. As you can see in the cartoon above, he refused to kill a baby bear cub whilst out hunting. His compassion inspired many people, including a Russian Jewish émigré couple, Morris and Rose Michtom. The toymakers sent him a small plush bear - and bravely asked for permission to use the 'Teddy' name.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The first versions were closer to real bears. Early examples such as those made by Steiff are highly valuable.  But to their owners, these cuddly toys are priceless.

There are plenty of bears in children's literature. Winnie-the-Pooh (1924) was based on the original sort of teddies - with long snouts, small eyes and sometimes growling mechanisms. Post-war ones tended to be more stylised - but perhaps we will see more naturalistic bears  more like spirit animals?

Original drawing by E. H. Shepard
Mary Tourtel created Rupert Bear in 1920 - but Alfred Bestall took him on to fame and fortune. The verse and cartoon strip combination proved a popular and long-lasting mix.

Michael Bond's 'Paddington' came to life in 1958 with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum. His origins have compassion in them too: the author noticed a lone teddy bear on a shelf in a London store near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve 1956, which he bought as a present for his wife. He wrote the first tale in 10 days.

So far the only female teddy bear I've found is the shy Marylebone in Chris Riddell's Goth Girl and the Fete worse than Death. {If you know of any others, do tell.}

Still - teddy bears live in the imaginations of those who cuddle them. However you can get into rather Stephen King territory with ones who come to life independently.

Lotso from Toy Story III

When you're older, they can become mascots. You might see them on University Challenge - and fighter planes.

Flight Lieutenant Stephen Beaumont took his treasured teddy bear mascot on every flight, pictured together in the cockpit of a Boulton Paul Defiant

Flight Lieutenant Beaumont survived the war and died at the age of 87. His bear has lived on and if it could speak it surely would have some amazing stories of dog fights, sorties and close shaves.

All teddies could tell tales. How can we use that in our work?

My ancient teddy, with the nose skewiff because I stood on it to see over the window sill, is on the right.

Some ideas to try out
  • How do cuddly toys see their children? 'Thinks bubbles' could be fun.
  • What would they risk to please those who love and believe in them?
  • What do they hope for - or fear?
  • What do the toys remember of being made?
  • With older children, could they reveal things to their teddies they might not otherwise say?
  • What does each scrape, patch, ripped seam or mismatched glass eye reveal? 
  • Which memories would come back with cuddles or the smell of a beloved ted?
  • How might an enemy use the love for a teddy to their advantage? 
  • What could possibly persuade someone to part with their oldest friend?

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