The Reign of the Teddy Bear: 1907

“Buster Borwn” Teddy preparing to assault a child’s fancy and follow it up with an attack on the parents’ pocketbook.

“Buster Borwn” Teddy preparing to assault a child’s fancy and follow it up with an attack on the parents’ pocketbook.

THE REIGN OF THE TEDDY BEAR

His Juvenile Constituents, the American Children, Will Listen to No Talk About Refusing To Run For Another Term.

Have you a little Teddy bear in your house? Or a big Teddy bear—big enough, quite, to wear the five-year-old son and heir’s cap and sweater— or maybe a middle-sized Teddy bear that belongs to the baby?

What?

Of course. As well ask: is there a dishpan in your house? Or: would you like to own a motor-car?

The answer is quite as obvious. For of course you have a Teddy bear, or your wife has, it you have a wife, or your children have, if you have children—in fact, the children, more likely than not, have a whole menagerie of them, from the smallest little brown beastie, which costs twenty-five cents, to the biggest white polar species that costs twenty-five dollars.

And still they come.

Two years ago it was that the Teddy bear fad started. Two years ago at the winter resorts babies were lugging around these quaint furry little animals. They were small then, and for the most part decorated with a huge pink or blue ribbon neck-bow.

Grown people stopped the babies and took their Teddy bears away from them to examine them.

Weren’t they the cutest things ever? The Teddy bears and the babies, of course.

And then, after the grown people had examined these cunning toys sufficiently, they hied them to the nearest toy or novelty shop and bought a Teddy bear. which was shipped by express or mail to a favorite niece or nephew.

“My. I’d like to see Johnny when he opens that!” they’d exclaim proudly.

And. indeed. it was worth while to see a youngster with his first Teddy bear.

We say that two years ago the Teddy bear fad started. Is it fair, perhaps, to call it a fad? A thing isn’t a fad when it keeps growing and growing and gets enlarged upon and has noted sociologists decry it. For, of course, too, you know that with some folks the Teddy bear is under a horrible ban?

Some folks—college folks, too, but only professors, not students—say that a fondness for Teddy bears is going to make little girls like fox-terriers better than babies when they grow up. They say that someone ought to take the Teddy bears away from the mothers of the future and make them play with dolls instead.

It would be interesting to know just how many young folks under the age of seven there are who go to bed at night curled up with a Teddy bear. It might be a doll, of course, but we know instances when it was only a woolen comforter wrapped around a corn-cob, or one of those rubber things called a “pacifier,” which is so fearfully unhealthful for babies to nibble on. It isn’t quite fair to scold the Teddy bear too hard. More than that, we’ve even known of little girls who never cared for dolls at all, and yet when they grew up, they adored children.

Clad in a carpenter’s suit, this is the kind of a teddy bear that delights the small boy.

Clad in a carpenter’s suit, this is the kind of a teddy bear that delights the small boy.

And this is the sort of a teddy that makes every little girl forget about her old-fashioned dolls.
And this is the sort of a teddy that makes every little girl forget about her old-fashioned dolls.

The Teddy bear, however, is a sort of sexless toy. A boy can lug one around and still preserve his dignity. And better still, a girl, whose mother says she has grown too old to play with dolls, is never too old for a Teddy bear. This obviates the necessity of locking oneself in one’s room at the age, say. of fifteen and surreptitiously making clothes for some battered doll. One may make clothes for a Teddy bear quite openly and proudly. It is “cute” to dress a Teddy bear, no matter what age you are.

Even grown ladies have been known to carry them.

And college “men” always decorate their dens with them. Always you will find a Teddy bear the conspicuous ornament of a college-man’s room, and he will be wearing his owner’s sweater, most likely, with its significant letters, and his owner’s cap and pipe.

The girls’ basket-ball team always has a Teddy bear for its mascot, and if the rival team can only manage to steal this mascot it’s all up with the first team for that year. The girls take turns in guarding it and dressing it and taking it for airings in the baby’s go-cart, and, in short, of amusing themselves generally with this interesting and quaint toy.

Fortunately, children don’t have to pretend there is any other reason for their playing with the Teddy bear than just plain playing. That is only one of the many pleasures and compensations of childhood.

For instance. Mrs. Jones was once caught in the act of parading a Teddy bear. When rallied upon the fact, she was obliged to retort blushingly: “Nonsense! Of course not. I’m just taking this home to little Mary—I thought it was so cute and sweet I had to buy it for her.” Or, “Johnny left his Teddy bear at his cousin’s the last time we were down, and he misses it so. That’s why!” And there are many other excuses that might occur to the fertile brain of Mrs. Jones.

Yet the real fact is that mania and papa and uncle and auntie—even grandma herself—all show symptoms of violent Teddybearism. Pretty nearly everybody. grown— ups and infants alike. have at some time or other been made a present of a Teddy bear, or, failing of that, have made themselves a present of one. which in reality is the same thing.

And they all enjoy playing with the quaint toy animals quite as much as baby himself.

“Let me show you how to fix him!” says papa, firmly extracting a little brown Teddy bear from the resisting hands of his favorite son, little Johnny.

“So! See how funny he looks when you turn his head sideways. Isn’t he cute? There, there, you booby! Well, here, take him then! I was only trying to show you how… Mercy, if that child isn’t growing selfish!”

lf being President isn’t honor enough for Mr. Roosevelt. at least he has the distinction of being the godfather of the Teddy bear, and that ought to content any man, however ambitious.

The Teddy bear is a fixture and we don’t believe that his popularity will ever be shaken, if one may judge from the present enthusiasm that characterizes the custom.

They tried to oust him with those queer-looking little bull-pups, muzzled and appropriately ferocious. But it’s impossible to take a muzzled bull-pup to bed with you and cuddle it, and you can’t dress it up. There aren’t any clothes made that will fit a bow-legged bull-pup. Besides, if you’re an infant it frightens you just to look at it, and you can but vociferously voice your fright and thrust the animal out of your sight as quickly as possible. It is not so with the Teddy bear.

If you are older, you repudiate the bullpup because it isn’t human-looking. The Teddy bear is. Nor do you care for the stuffed pussy cats and rabbits. They aren’t human-looking, either.

Perhaps you think it’s the humanity of the Teddy bear that makes him so popular. Perhaps—but there’s another reason, and I’ll wager you’ve never thought of it, although you’ve always known it inside of you.

Do you realize that the Teddy bear is the first essentially American toy we’ve ever possessed?

The Teddy bear is an American from the ground up—name, shrewd Yankee face, independent strut, and all.

That’s the real reason why he’s more than a fad and justly popular.

The Scrap Book, Volume 4, 1907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil assumes that all know the story of how President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a young black bear; the tale has gone down in American folklore with George Washington’s cherry tree. 15 February 1903 was said to be the date that the first teddy-bear was sold in the United States. Morris Michtom, of the Ideal Toy Company and Richard Steiff, of the German toy manufactory Steiff, both created their bears in 1903, apparently independently.

Of course, some of the greatest teddy-bears are British. Pooh and Paddington spring to mind.The American public might also be familiar with “Aloysius,” Sebatian Flyte’s teddy-bear in Bridgeshead Revisited by that disagreeable Mr Waugh. Waugh was at Oxford with John Betjeman, later Poet Laureate, and was inspired by Betjeman’s teddy, Archibald Ormsby-Gore. “Archie,” as he was familiarly known, had a stuffed elephant companion named “Jumbo.” Both toys attended the poet on his deathbed.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Reign of the Teddy Bear: 1907

  1. SallyCampbell & Ike Renfield

    “Weren’t they the cutest things ever?” Yes, and they are good, fond friends. But Velveteen Rabbits may just trump them in my sentimental children’s world pantheon/toytheon.

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Ah, the bears-vs-rabbits schism! Mrs Daffodil fears that publically she must decline to take up sides in religious controversies. She is entirely neutral on the question of soft toys except that, in her stint as a nursery-maid, she found the run of them to be entirely too underfoot. Privately, however, Mrs Daffodil would agree with you.

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