Margarete Steiff and the Teddy Bear

Margarete Steiff’s sewing hobby turned into a major German toy company. The popularity of a U.S. President helped launch her ‘Teddy Bear’ into the arms of children around the world.

Steiff is an international toy company known for its quality and premium prices. The company’s specialization of animal-themed toys came from its founder, Margarete Steiff. She began sewing elephant pin-cushions for friends, but noticed how they delighted children as play toys. Other stuffed animals transformed this famous German’s hobby into a company in the late 1800’s.

Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th President, was already a war hero and legend in 1902 when his presidential hunting party wounded a young bear in Mississippi. Roosevelt ordered a mercy killing. While the bear had just killed a hunting dog, a political cartoonist drew the President sitting with a cute toy bear. Within a year the world was demanding ‘Teddy Bears.’

Many companies jumped into making the toy, but Steiff already produced bears. Margaret’s nephew, Richard, repositioned Steiff bears into high quality Teddy Bears. They sold nearly a million in 1907 and Theodore Roosevelt’s mascot remains the $100 million private company’s leading product. The original Steiff Teddy Bears are antiques. In 1994 one drew $170,000 at a Japanese auction.

When traveling in Germany between Stuttgart and Munich on the autobahn, stop by Glengen, just north of Ulm in the Swabian foothills. You will find the company headquarters, which employs 1,000 with offices around the world.

Tour the Margarete Steiff Museum, a magical place filled with her stuffed toys. Save some Euros for a genuine Steiff Teddy Bear, a German souvenir you can snuggle.

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