Historically yours – Roosevelt and The Jewish Teddy Bear

The symbol of security for children the world over – the cuddly Teddy Bear– has a Jewish origin. The true story is an amazing connection between president Teddy Roosevelt and an immigrant Jewish couple, Rose and Morris Michtom. In 1902, Louisiana and Mississippi, in a common boundary dispute, decided to let the President arbitrate the issue. Roosevelt, a big game hunter, decide to combine his arbitration tour with a bear hunt. Roosevelt was such a charismatic figure that the world press reported on his every move. Reporters followed the bear hunt— ready to report the kill to the anxious world. After several days, there was nothing to report—the bears had eluded Roosevelt. On the last day, apparently trying to help the President, one of his friends caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree for the president to shoot. When Roosevelt came upon the bear cub, he refused to shoot it stating that he only shot animals that had a sporting chance. Popular cartoonist Clifford Berryman depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot the bear cub, to the delight of the American public. It was followed up by a cartoon in the Washington Post showing the bear as a cuddly little animal. The image of the cub was now firmly planted. Teddy was the hero.

Rose and Morris, penniless immigrants from Russia, opened a small candy store in Brooklyn. The Michtom’ s, as did millions of others around the world, followed every press report on the bear hunt, including the Presidents refusal to kill the defenseless cub.

Morris asked Rose if she could dew a small bear as in the Berryman’s cartoon. The following day, Rose handed Morris a stuffed bear for display in their store window, labeling it “Teddy’s bear.” Customers gawked and flocked into the candy store to buy the toy animals. Morris, concerned about the possible improper use of the name, sent the stuffed animal to the president as a gift for his children and asked permission to use Roosevelt’s name for future sales. Roosevelt, with great delight, responded with permission. Rose and Morris worked 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand, changing he name of the stuffed animal to “Teddy bear.” The toy became so popular that Roosevelt adopted it as the Republican Party’s symbol in the election in 1904. At Alice Roosevelt’s wedding, (daughter of the President) every guest received a Teddy Bear. Michtom’ s gave up the candy store and opened up a factory to produce the now famous toy animal. Their company became The Ideal Toy Company. It was an American classic of immigrant success. The original teddy bear is in the Smithsonian. When you see a child (or a sick person) holding a Teddy Bear, remember Rose and Morris in the Brooklyn candy store.

Sources: The Strange Side of Jewish history, “Teddy Bears—Theodore Roosevelt,”: Jewish Virtual Library, “Rose & Morris Michtom (1870-1938,”: National park Service, Theodore Roosevelt Birth Place, “The Story of Teddy Bear,”: Theodore Roosevelt Association, “Real Teddy Bear Story,”: HUFFPOST, Culture & Arts, “So this is where Teddy Bears Got Their name.”: Wikipedia, “Teddy Bear.”


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