Rose & Morris Michtom
(1870 - 1938)
Teddy bears are a symbol of cuddly gentleness and security
the world over. It is well known that the teddy bear is named for President
Theodore Roosevelt. Less well known are the inventors of the teddy bear,
Rose and Morris Michtom, two Russian Jewish immigrants who lived in
The American bear as a symbol
of gentleness is filled with ironies. For
generations, bears prompted fear, not affection.
The teddy bears namesake, Theodore Roosevelt,
was a ferocious warrior and big game hunter
a man who killed for sport. However,
an unlikely alliance between the rugged, native-born
American Protestant president and the inventive,
immigrant Jewish couple from Brooklyn created
one of the most lovable and enduring American
The story begins in 1902. The states of Mississippi and Louisiana disagreed
over the location of their common boundary, which bisected some of the
least well-developed land in the United States. The governors of both
states invited President Roosevelt to arbitrate the dispute. Roosevelt
decided to combine his tour of the disputed territory with a five-day
black bear hunt.
The presidents foray attracted a large contingent of journalists,
who reported on Roosevelts every move. Even more compelling to
the reporters than the boundary dispute was the presidents pursuit
of a trophy bear. For four days, the press reported little about Roosevelts
arbitration of the boundary dispute and harped on the ability of the
areas bears to elude his crosshairs. On the fifth and last day
of the junket, apparently to redeem the presidents reputation,
one of his hunting companions caught and tied a bear cub to a tree so
that the president could shoot it. When he came upon the cub, Roosevelt
refused to kill it, saying that he only took prey that had a sporting
chance to defend itself.
Roosevelts demurrer took the nation by storm. The leading American
cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, published a cartoon showing Roosevelt
turning his back on the young bear, tied by its neck, and public response
to the presidents self-restraint was overwhelmingly favorable.
The next day, the Washington Post published a second cartoon, depicting
the bear as a more placid beast, cementing the docile image of the young
bear even more firmly in the public imagination.
Enter the Michtoms. Morris had arrived penniless in New York in 1887,
when only in his teens, a refugee from pogroms. He married Rose and
opened a small store that sold notions, candy and other penny items.
In the evening, to help make ends meet, Rose sewed toys that they sold
in the shop. Like millions of other Americans, the Michtoms avidly followed
press accounts of Roosevelts journey into the Louisiana backcountry.
Roosevelts refusal to shoot the defenseless bear touched the Michtoms.
Morris suggested to Rose that she sew a replica of the bear represented
in Berrymans cartoons.
That night, Rose cut and stuffed a piece of plush velvet into the shape
of a bear, sewed on shoe button eyes and handed it to Morris to display
in the shop window. He labeled it, "Teddys bear." To
his surprise, not only did someone enter the store asking to buy the
bear, but twelve other potential customers also asked to purchase it.
Aware that he might offend the president by using his name without permission,
the Michtoms mailed the original bear to the White House, offering it
as a gift to the presidents children and asking Roosevelt for
the use of his name. He told the Michtoms he doubted his name would
help its sales but they were free to use it if they wanted.
The rest is an amazing yet characteristic American Jewish
immigrant success story. The Michtoms sewed teddy bears and placed them
in the window of their shop, but demand was so great they couldnt
keep up. The couple concluded that there was more profit in teddy bears
than in penny candy and dedicated full time to producing them. Because
of the dolls popularity, Roosevelt and the Republican Party adopted
it as their symbol in the election of 1904, and Michtom bears were placed
on display at every public White House function.
The Michtoms labor
grew into the Ideal Toy Company, which remained
in family hands until the 1970s. Ideal Toys
sold millions of teddies throughout the world;
yet, their good fortune did not spoil the
Michtoms. Ever mindful of their humble origins,
supported the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,
the Jewish National Fund, the National Labor
Campaign for Palestine and numerous other
Jewish causes. While Ideal Toys could not
secure a patent on the teddy bear and many
imitators entered the market, the Michtoms
created an American and worldwide
icon. Their original teddy bear, treasured
and saved by Teddy Roosevelts grandchildren,
is now displayed at the Smithsonian.
Jewish Historical Society