The Story Behind the World’s Best-Selling toy: Teddy Bear

The Story Behind the World’s Best-Selling toy: Teddy Bear

The “Teddy Bear” is considered the most successful teddy of all time. It even became the best-selling toy in the world in the 20th century… What is the reason for the popularity of this particular bear?


The Story of Margarete Steiff and Teddy Bear

The story of the Teddy Bear begins with Margarete Steiff, who was born in 1847 in the small town of Giengen a der Brenz, about 80 kilometers east of Stuttgart – Germany.

When she was one and a half years old, Margarete was affected by polio and sat in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.


Her fondness for sewing and the desire not to be a burden on her family, motivated her to have a sewing machine made to adapt it to her wheelchair. He made him switch the machine sideways so that he could use the wheel with the hand in which he had the most strength.


She had a great will and a spirit of improvement, that led her to fight against every obstacle that arose to found her own company. At that time, society did not look kindly on female entrepreneurs.

In 1877Margarete Steiff’s small business began selling her first clothing and household items.

A business opportunity: toys for children

Her design sensibility and imagination led her to invent a pink felt elephant, which was designed to be used as a pincushion. Noticing that many people were delighted to see him and asked him to make one for them, he decided to make more of these items to put on sale. However, to his surprise, the elephant was especially popular with children, who enjoyed playing with it.


During the year 1886, more than 5,000 of these elephants were sold as toys, so the company began to add other animals to its product catalog. As the business expanded, Fritz Steiff, Margarete’s brother, took over responsibility for sales.

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Margarete and Fritz had identified an interesting way to promote their toys: they regularly published catalogs of all the products that their company had. Back then, catalogs were only used by clothing stores and to sell fashion items. Its first catalog was published in the year 1892.


In 1893 the Leipzig Spring Fair arrived – in Germany. The fairs at that time were how the products were made known in the world, therefore, a significant investment was required to participate in them. Margarete felt that this opportunity should not be wasted, thus her toys were presented for the first time at world fairs and her company was registered in the Commercial Register as a toy factory.


Thanks to his constant participation in fairs and his publications of product catalogs, in 1895the first business contacts, were made abroad, in Harrods – London.

The Story Behind the World's Best-Selling toy: Teddy Bear


Theodore Roosevelt and Teddy Bear

In 1897, Richard SteiffMargarete’s nephew, began working for the company. Richard was responsible for creating the first modern articulated bear with movable arms and legs. He called it “Bär 55 PB”, a name that referred to the height of 55cmP (plüsch: stuffed animal)= a that it was made of plush, and B (beweglich: mobile) = that it was articulated.


In the spring of 1902, a historical event occurred in the United States that would play a determining role in the success of the teddy bears manufactured by Margarete’s company. …


The president of the time, Theodore Roosevelt, traveled to the south of his country to resolve a border conflict between Louisiana and Mississippi. His hosts arranged a bear hunt for him, hoping that he would return home with a trophy.


The first days of the hunt were unsuccessful until the guides found a bear, beat it, and tied it up so that Roosevelt could only give him the coup de grace. When the president saw the animal subdued, he refused to shoot it, claiming that it would be unsportsmanlike to do so.

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This fact had great repercussions in the media, but it became especially known thanks to a cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman, in which the act of “compassion” that Roosevelt had with the bear was represented.


In 1903 in Germany, the Steiff Company participated in the Leipzig Fair of that year. They unveiled their modern Steiff “55PB” articulated bear for the first time, which went unnoticed until, on the last day of the show, a representative from Borgfeldt, New York’s largest toy importer, came to their booth. Richard Steiff showed him his teddy bear and the representative was so excited when he saw it that he bought the 3,000 copies produced. The Bear was introduced in the US under the name “Friend Petzy . 


In this same year, the fame of cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman grew thanks to adding a small decorative bear to all his Roosevelt cartoons. The Borgfeldt company, sensing the popularity of President “Teddy” Roosevelt and his cartoons with little cubs, decided to change the name of its articulated bear, from “Friend Petzy” to “Teddy Bear” (Teddy Bear, in Spanish).


Sales soared. Having a “Teddy Bear” in the home encouraged patriotic sentiment in Americans, and children were dying to hug one.


The toy became known throughout the world. In 1907 alone, more than a million Teddy Bears were sold worldwide. The Steiff Factory had 400 workers and produced about one and a half million toys that year.

The Story Behind the World's Best-Selling toy: Teddy Bear

Margarete Steiff’s legacy

After more than 130 years since its founding, the Margarete Steiff GmbH company continues to position itself as one of the main manufacturers of quality toys globally, reaching a turnover of more than 80 million dollars a year in sales within and outside Germany.


On the centenary of its founding, the company inaugurated the Margarte Steiff Museum in Giengen a der Brenz (its hometown), thus creating a veritable ‘stuffed world’. Today, in addition to the museum, fans, and collectors of the special editions can admire Steiff’s creations in galleries in Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Kiel, Hannover, Wiesbaden, Zurich, and London.

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Without a doubt, the story of Margarete Steiff and Teddy Bear is full of valuable lessons for entrepreneurs. Here are some of them:

  • Conviction and determination. In the first place, the conviction and determination of Margarete are noteworthy, despite not being able to walk and the machismo of the time, always struggled to get ahead, thus managing to build a millionaire company with worldwide sales.


  • Ingenuity and creativity. Second, we also see the importance of risking trying to do things differently. Margarete and her brother were constantly exploring new ways to promote their products, thus challenging their creativity and managing to increase sales in unconventional ways for the time.


  • Take advantage of opportunities. Third, it is essential to be attentive to market signals and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way. Although Steiff’s company did not initially manufacture toys, the entrepreneur did not hesitate to enter this market when she realized the potential there was. In the same way, the Borgfeldt company was right to change the name of the teddy bear to take advantage of the popularity of the president.


  • Patience and persistence. And fourthly, we highlight the values ​​of patience and persistence. The strategy of participating in fairs did not pay off immediately. It took 10 years for this investment to achieve the goal of expanding the business globally, but in the end, things turned out better than they had ever imagined.

In 1909Margarete Steiff passed away at the age of 61 due to pneumonia, but she would leave a business legacy that would transcend our time. His nephews took over the management of the company, thus continuing with a story that began in the hands of a woman who never allowed herself to be limited by the barriers that life imposed on her. In the words of Margarete Steiff herself:


“He who believes in himself is free.”


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