Morris Michtom invents the Teddy Bear, 1903
February 15, 1903 is a significant day in Jewish-American entrepreneurial history that celebrates the innovation and invention of the Teddy Bear by Morris and Rose Michtom in Brooklyn, New York. The Michtom family can be remembered as one of exemplary Jewish-American success. Morris and Rose Michtom were proudly Jewish and both immigrants from Russia in the late 1800’s. They settled in Brooklyn, New York and established their candy and penny shop to make a living. After the surprising demand for their invention of the Teddy Bear, the Michtom’s established the Ideal Toy Company as a new family business. The Michtom family owned the Ideal Toy Company until the 1970’s. During their ownership, they kept in mind their heritage and made financial donations to Jewish organizations and causes around the world. The Teddy Bear is commonly known for being named after the twenty-sixth President of the United States of America: Theodore Roosevelt. How this product came to be is not as widely discussed but a fascinating piece of American and Jewish history, because of the Michtom’s creation. Theodore Roosevelt was known for enjoying the great American outdoors and outdoor activities, like hunting. In 1902, Roosevelt traveled to Louisiana and Mississippi to settle a border dispute with the states’ governors. He added a five-day hunting excursion in the region to hunt black bears, at the conclusion of his work. The President was upset that he could not seem to successfully shoot a bear as the excursion came to a close. Others on the hunt captured a black bear cub and tied up the creature for Roosevelt to openly shoot. He vocally refused to kill an animal that could no longer use its natural instincts to defend itself. Roosevelt’s hunting trip, where he declined to shoot the black bear cub, had attracted press across the United States. A couple days after initial publicity of the hunt, political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, released a sketch in the Washington Post. The cartoon depicted Roosevelt with his back to an aide and the black bear cub, and the words, “Drawing the line in Mississippi.” The cartoon incorporated humor of the business and leisure of being President. Back in Brooklyn, Morris Michtom saw Berryman’s cartoon in the Washington Post. At the time, the Michtom’s shop sold candy and small items, and occasionally crafted stuffed animals for kids. The toys and stuffed animals they made never sold as well as the candy and small goods. Morris asked his wife, Rose, to stitch together and stuff a little bear cub that resembled the one in the cartoon. When Rose finished the stuffed animal bear, Morris put it up in the window. He labeled it as a “teddy bear” after the President and his image from the cartoon. To the Michtom’s surprise, there was popularity for the bear and they decided to produce more. To feel secure using Theodore Roosevelt’s name in branding their stuffed animal, Morris wrote a letter to the President asking for permission to continue referring to the product as a “teddy bear.” President Roosevelt received the letter and agreed! Having gotten this permission, Morris Michtom began to mass-produce the teddy bear and founded his family business, the Ideal Toy Company. The Ideal Toy Company remained a family business for the greater part of the century, until the 1970’s. The Michtom’s and their next generations made sure to be philanthropic with their income, especially toward the Jewish communities around the United States and across the world. They were proud of their heritage and happy to support fellow Jewish immigrants and families. Since a secured patent never was acquired for the teddy bear, the Michtom family had lots of competition with the product. However, their original design of the bear was cherished by the Roosevelt family and continues to be memorialized at the Smithsonian. The Teddy Bear remains an icon around the world.
Sources: Smithsonian National Museum of American History: https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_491375 https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/rose-and-morris-michtom https://lisawallerrogers.com/tag/rose-and-morris-michtom/