Dakota Datebook

Teddy Bear Craze in Grand Forks

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

 

Who could ever resist loving Teddy Bears? Who could resist the story of Teddy Bears, tugging on your heartstrings? Apparently, very few would ever WANT to resist the irresistible.

We commemorate Teddy Bears today, because on this date in 1911, a newspaper story in the Grand Forks Herald made mention of a piano recital, and a student named Mildred Johnson, who played a song entitled “March of the Teddy Bears,” a tribute to the lovable, fuzzy, furry stuffed toys.

Teddy Bears were the stuff of legend, arising from the legendary president, Theodore Roosevelt. The story went like this – while President Theodore Roosevelt was bear hunting in the state of Mississippi in 1902, his hunting guides tracked a black bear, surrounded it by dogs, rendered the bear unconscious, and tied the old bear to a tree, waiting for Roosevelt to arrive and shoot it.

When the President came upon the scene, he refused to shoot the old mother bear, believing it was unsportsmanlike and unmanly.  Instead, he asked a hunting guide to put the bear out of its misery.

Word spread nationally through newspaper stories that the President had compassion on the bear. A political cartoonist named Clifford Berryman drew up a cartoon featuring Teddy Roosevelt and the bear in the Washington Post, with Roosevelt refusing to shoot it, showing a kinder and gentler side of the manly, big-game hunter who aspired to “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” As the bear was re-drawn several times, the old mother bear became smaller and cuter, finally appearing as a bear cub.

The story of Roosevelt’s bear hunting episode inspired businessman Morris Michtom, and his wife Rose, to manufacture stuffed bear toys in honor of the President who refused to shoot a bear.  They called it “Teddy’s Bear.”

After obtaining Roosevelt’s permission to use the nickname, Michtom made thousands of the toy bears in 1903.  Word of the Teddy Bears spread throughout the land and little children began to hug them and adore them in an effervescent flow of love that flooded the nation. It became known as the “Teddy Bear craze,” and it took several years for the phenomenon to get to the Upper Midwest.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, Teddy Bears arrived in the region in 1906 and over the following year, stores could barely keep ahead of the demand.  Almost every child wanted one.

By 1907, the “Teddy Bear fad” began to fade, and critics lauded its apparent demise, but Teddy Bears never went away, as stores continually promoted the universal fascination Teddy Bears held over infants who were amused and quieted by the fuzzy toys.  “Nothing will please the children like a Teddy Bear,” advised a storeowner.

Even though the Teddy Bear craze subsided, the little bears, having been fully loved, could often be found in old toy boxes, tattered and with the fur worn nearly off, with button eyes fully satisfied, as a testimony of having been simply irresistible.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

 

Sources: “Society Notes,” Grand Forks Herald, June 3, 1911, p. 5.

“Teddy Bear Fad At Last Losing Its Popularity in Grand Forks as Elsewhere,” Grand Forks Herald, July 28, 1907, p. 12.

“Teddy Bear Craze,” Grand Forks Herald, December 26, 1907, p. 10.

“Christmas Shopping Hints,” Grand Forks Herald, December 15, 1907, p. 11.

“The Teddy Bear Club,” Grand Forks Herald, April 30, 1907, p. 5.

“Teddy Bear,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, http://americanhistory.si.edu/press/fact-sheets/teddy-bear, accessed on March 9, 2013.

“The Story of the Teddy Bear,” Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, National Park Service, www.nps.gov/thrb/historyculture/storyofteddybear.htm, accessed on March 9, 2013.

“Advertisement: Nothing Will Please the Children Like a Teddy Bear,” Bismarck Tribune, September 28, 1907, p. 4.

“Teddy Bears,” Bismarck Tribune, September 28, 1907, p. 5.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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