Edward Southerland: "...ev'ry bear that ever there was..."
By Edward Southerland
Jul 14, 2017
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My bear’s name was Bosco. I would guess that he was named for the chocolate syrup although the chocolate syrup in our house was always Hershey’s. Bosco was brown and white with button eyes, and he was the only bear I ever had. He was also one of my best friends.

As best as I remember, my bear Bosco looked like this.

Later in his life, he made regular visits to Leonard so my grandmother could push the stuffing back into his middle and sew him up. By that time the plush cloth had worn smooth and he was missing an eye — there wasn’t enough solid cloth behind the eye to hold the stitches — so he had a something of a roguish look.

When I left home, I still had him; he was in the chest of drawers in my room. (I once saw an insurance claim noting the lost of a chester drawers, but that’s another story.) I was in Atlanta when my dad sold the house and moved, and Bosco disappeared along with my football jackets, B Association wooden “B”s and some other things I sort of wish I still had.

To borrow a line from the “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” Bosco probably was the best bear that ever there was. After all, he could trace his lineage all the way back to 1902 and a president of the United States.

Theodore Roosevelt had traveled to Mississippi to mediate a boundary dispute between that state and neighboring Louisiana, and, knowing he was nimrod, his hosts and set up a mini hunting expedition. Despite their good efforts, there was no game to be found, but the guides did capture a bear cub. They brought the cub to Roosevelt, who refused to take a shot at the helpless target.

The incident made the newspapers and inspired a cartoon by Clifford Berryman of the Washington Post, entitled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” The incident and the cartoon entranced the entire country and inspired Morris and Rose Michtom to make a stuffed bear and display it in the window of their candy and stationery shop in Brooklyn, New York.

The cartoon that started it all.

The Michtom’s bruin was no snarling, growling denizen of the dark forest, but a cute, round, innocent little cub like the picture in the cartoon. Teddy’s bear, for that’s what they called their creation, was a hit in the neighborhood and customers flocked to the store to buy copies. The Michtoms went into business with Butler Brothers wholesalers and started the first teddy bear manufacturer in the U.S., the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Morris Mitchtom's first bear.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Richard Steiff in Germany, was thinking along the same lines as the Michtoms in Brooklyn. Steiff, who worked for a relative who made stuffed toys, came up with an idea for a bear. It’s doubtful that he had ever seen the Berryman cartoon, and besides, Steiff’s bear was of a different style, less cartoon like and more real, albeit still cuddly.

The German bear was on display at the Leipzig Toy Show, in the spring of 1903, but the European buyers didn’t seem to care. The Americans did however, and Steiff got an order from the States for 3,000 copies of Baer 55PB.

A early German made Steiff bear.

The time was right, Teddy’s bears, soon shorten to just teddy bears, were sweeping the U.S.A. The president ran for a reelection with a teddy bear as his mascot, there were children’s books about the exploits of the Roosevelt Bears and J.K. Bratton composed “The Teddy Bear Two Step.” Later on, with the addition of words, the piece would be known as “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”**

Bear builders started up over night, and most of them faded almost as quickly, done in by the tide of European imports, as other firms, particularly the Germans, jumped on the bear wagon. The Great War slowed down the boom in the bear population, but new manufacturers stepped in to fill the void. The English made bears, and in 1921, the gift of a Farnell bear to a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne led to the creation of Winne the Poo, four years later.

In the 20s and 30s better educated and better articulated bears showed up on toy store shelves. There were musical bears, mechanical bears, bears that walked and danced and turned flips.

The post war years, all the way through the 70s were hard ones for the teddy bears and their friends and the companies that made them. The traditional manufacturers found it rough trying to compete with the floods of cheap imports from the Far East. And then there were other toys, more sophisticated and more exciting coming on the scene to compete with Teddy.

Then, on a late night a television talk show, British actor Peter Bull got to talking about his teddy bear and how important it still was to him. More than two thousand letters showed that a lot of other people agreed with him, and in 1969 he wrote a book, Bear with Me and Teddy was back.

He was back, but with a different orientation. Still a favorite friend of children of course, the new teddys now appealed to the child still residing in the grown up bodies of the baby boomers. Teddy became not just squeezable nostalgia; he became collectable. Artists and designers of note got into the bear business and antique teddys started commanding more and more money in the auction house. In 1994 a Steiff bear brought $176,000 at Christie’s.

Google a reference to teddy bear, and you’ll get close to two million hits. There are teddy bear museums, teddy bear newspapers, and teddy bear Web sites galore. Specialty mail order teddy bear builders abound, and one company, with stores in six countries, lets you go online or in person and design you own special teddy from the paws up.

It there is a teddy bear heaven, and I don’t doubt it for a minute, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that Bosco is up there right now, just waiting for the picnic to begin. Doubtless he will be the guest of honor, and that’s only fitting for the best bear that ever there was.

“The Teddy Bears Picnic”
by John Walter Bratton & Jimmy Kennedy

If you go down in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain
Because today's the day the
Teddy Bears have their picnic

Picnic time for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having
A lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares

At six o'clock their Mommies and Daddies
Will take them home to bed
Because they're tired little Teddy Bears

Every Teddy Bear who's been good
Is sure of a treat today
There's lots of marvelous things to eat
And wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees

They’ll hide!