TED Talk. Jon Mooallem: The strange Story of the Teddy Bear …


… and why a beast’s image changed from ferocious to cuddly

Independent of one another, Morris Michtom in the USA and Richard Steiff in Germany hatched the same idea at the same time: In 1902/1903 they simultaneously created a plaything that was later to become an iconic item even for collectors. Chances of their copying one another’s intellectual property were slim, as transatlantic communication at the beginning of the twentieth century proved to be less than speedy. The soft, cute and cuddly toy „Teddy Bear“ victoriously found its way into virtually every nursery the world over and has lost nothing of its popularity since. It is comforting, arouses deep sympathy, is usually loved until threadbare and if at all, thrown away only with a heart bleeding forever after.

Whereas the Steiff company developed their idea after visiting a local zoo exhibiting brown bears and first gave their toy the name „Bear P55“, Morris Michtom’s „Teddy Bear“ is said to have been inspired by this story:

Then United States President Theodore „Teddy“ Roosevelt was on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902. As he had not succeeded in killing an animal himself, his attendants cornered an American Black Bear, tied it to a tree and suggested to Teddy to shoot the beast dead. Roosevelt refused to such an unsportsmanlike thing, but asked his companions to put the bear out of its misery in his stead.

The Washington Post made the incident a topic by publishing the controversial scene as a political cartoon. Jon Mooallem uses some of the drawings to charmingly illustrate his talk. He is the author of “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.”

In this book Jon examines the human relationship with wild animals, tells stories of the North American environmental movement and follows three species symbolizing our complicated relationship with nature. He has written about the murder of Hawaiian monk seals, Idahoan utopians, the world’s most famous ventriloquist or the sad, secret history of the invention of the high-five (a celebratory hand gesture). A recent piece, American Hippopotamus, is about a plan to initiate the hippopotamus ranching industry in America in 1910.

Copyright header photo: Christina Feyerke