By Britney Pieta
Teddy bears are one of the first stuffed animals in America in the evolution of stuffed animals. Teddy bears first got started from a cartoon of Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear. It appears that this cartoon even inspired Morris and Rose Michtom to make a bear in admiration of the president’s actions. The Michtoms called their bear “Teddy’s Bear” and placed it in the window of their store. It began to make a hit with the American public. By 1906 there were teddy bears everywhere and it was the hot object on the shelf (Clay).
This is saying that President Roosevelt was basically the starting point of the teddy bear and his name lives on through them. In here, I will discuss the background of teddy bears, how they are culturally important, how we can interpret them, and what teddy bears reveal about the American people. My teddy bear artifact is a treasured object that illustrates the presumed comfort in childhood in contemporary America.
The years 1920-1940 were a period where the teddy bear industry grew a lot and was a time where the manufacturing of them was also very affected by war, such as when the Great Depression hit the United States and when World War II broke out. The U.S. factories and workers turned to the war effort, which stopped the making of teddy bears. Instead, weapons were being made. In the 1920’s, a Schuco bear (named after the manufacturer) that said the words, “yes” and “no” was designed. This bear shakes its head yes or no, depending on how you pull its tail. Also in the 1920s and 1930s, musical and mechanical bears were popular, because the bears were made to walk, dance, play ball, and even turn somersaults. (Clay).
In the 1950’s through the 1970s, there was competition from eastern countries making inexpensive teddy bears, depending on the material and how complex they were made. Early teddy bears were filled with wood or kapok. Wood wool, made of thinly shredded wood, was once the most popular teddy bear stuffing. Wood wool can be dusty and is not washable, so it isn’t recommended for bears that will be used by children. It works well for making collectible teddy bears, because real early bear details are popular with collectors, such as the stuffing and shape (Mann, Christine).
The desire for washable toys made from synthetic fibers was popular in the post-war years. Consumers liked the thought of washable toys, so bears were made from nylon or acrylic plush, and had plastic eyes and foam rubber stuffing. (Clay). In the present day, a new kind of manufactured bear called the artist-designed manufactured bear, are given to the public by certain individuals and others. They give collectors the chance to own artist-designed bears that cost cheaper due to mass production. (Clay).
Artists bring quality to teddy bears, but at an affordable price. Also in present day, polyester stuffing is cheap and easy to locate. Inexpensive, simple to use, and obtainable everywhere, polyester filling is today’s most popular pick for making all sorts of stuffed animals, including teddy bears (Mann, Christine). Teddy bears have come a long way throughout their history, anyone can witness these changes if they have been around since they started. From simple bears, to mechanical bears, to the different materials, teddy bears really have evolved.
There is a process of how teddy bears are designed. Pieces of the bear are also drawn to be used in making a pattern. The pattern is cut out and put together, and the prototype bear is looked at for their defects. If the design stops the bear from sitting right, or if the prototype is not correctly cuddly or recognizable , the design is redrawn, shapes of pieces are remade, or different colors or fabrics may be used to make another prototype. More testing may be needed to get just the right design before it is ready for more extensive manufacture (Advameg). This shows us that teddy bear making is a fine art and that the manufacturers really want to make the finished product as perfect as can be. Perfection means that the teddy bear comes through the manufacturing process in one piece without any defects and is made with the idea of who it is being made for and what the audience is.
There are a number of famous bears who have been marked down in history such as: Baloo Bear from Jungle book ( a real bear), Barney Bear ( a dinosaur), Bernstein bears (a real bear), Goldilocks and the three bears (real bears), Winnie the Pooh Bear (a cartoon bear), and Yogi bear (a cartoon bear), (Chrissie). Prince Charles of England had a teddy bear that came with him to school. At Prince Charles 4th birthday party, they even played his favorite song, “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (Bull 104). I think this helped him have an extra source of comfort (since after all his birthdays had much more publicity than ours). I never knew that even people in royalty cherished their beloved stuffed animal. I myself grew up with knowing about these bears and attach warm memories with them. I hope there continues to be more themes with bears in them for children in the future.
Some of the older stuffed animals are being recognized as collector’s items and are worth a large sum of money if they are in good condition (D. Kevin). Adult collectors build on their childhood friends and often invest in limited editions or bears made from prized designs and rare materials (Advameg). “You may have some of them around your home or packed away that are more valuable than you ever imagined” (D. Kevin). I know a lady from my church who was in her 40s and had teddy bears all over her house of all different kinds. Almost anyone can get a teddy bear nowadays, so people of all cultures can have them.
Teddy bears can be a part of our lives in a variety of situations that occur over major life events. I think that kids are the first ones to use it. What birthday, anniversary, sickness, homecoming or departure would be perfect without a stuffed animal? As gifts, they mark and commemorate life events, from the most important to the smallest experience (Putnam). They give us feelings of safety because they were given out of love usually from a close family member. My mom had a teddy bear when she was little and so did I. We get them at different stages of our lives. I got a pooh bear when I was one years old. I got a teddy bear for my 13 birthday. I got another teddy bear when my mom died so that I could hug it when I felt sad. My bear certainly helped me by making the blow of her death a little less. I still have my mom’s teddy bear, although it is falling apart. These soft toys are often very treasured to us and can help us get through the hard times that come our way in life (D. Kevin). We know this teddy bear is a trusted friend who shares in our happy times and stays by our side through the more difficult times (Starwise Creations).
I attach a lot of memories with my stuffed animals particularly my Pooh bear because my dad would play with him right before I went to sleep and he sang Winnie The Pooh Bear songs with me in the hospital when I was at my worst. My other bear I got when my mom died also helped me get through the shaky times in my life. I think of this object is a link to my past and keeps the past alive in my heart. Those memories are like a badge that I wear showing how I’ve changed over time.
Teddy bears suggest certain kinds of relationships. Girlfriend/boyfriends give them to each other as a symbol of their love. My sister still keeps her teddy bear she got from her ex boyfriend. She kept her bear not because of her boyfriend but because she liked owning it and didn’t want to part with it. Why are they significant? These relationships are significant I think because of the memories that surround them being given to us. Our memories of love that we have whether it be from a childhood friend, a parent, or a girlfriend/boyfriend, are what keep us going and keep us strong.
Teddy bears tell us that kids still need to hang onto their childhood in some way. Its usefulness is important for kids. Donald Winnicott called such stuffed animals and blankets “transitional objects.” He also said that transitional objects take up an important place in children’s emotional lives as mechanisms by which they calm themselves as they separate their identities from those of their parents (Eallen). I think this is very true because when I was little I would hold onto my mom’s leg before I went to school and cry. I decided to take my koala bear stuffed animal to school with me, so I would calm myself down. Many times, children grow attached to their animals and blankets, naming them and talking to them (Eallen).
A child can hold onto a teddy bear when he or she is sad and take it with them on their first day of school, when they travel, during their times of play, and to help them fall asleep. “As kids, we love our teddy bears as if they were real people and a member of our family. We name them, feed them, clothe them, care for them, and take them on all the family vacations. When our teddy bears get sick, we nurse them back to health. When our teddy bears get dirty, we give them a bath” (Starwise Creations). We learn a lot about relationships and how to take care of others through practice on them.
Teddy bears also have been given to children who go to hospitals for major surgeries. Russell McLean was one of them. He had been afflicted all his life with illness and in fact spent much of his childhood in bed. His dream was to give teddy bears as presents to children the first night they are left there, alone and frightened (Bull 62). Now some doctors even advise children undergoing operations to bring their bears with them (Bull 67). My friend Paige said, “I got my epilepsy bear when I was nine months old. Its name is Mr. Bear. It goes with me in the hospital. It’s there during my M.R.I.’s and there before and after surgery. It goes through everything with me. When I am scared it makes me feel better. It’s very worn out and loved.” Teddy bears can also have beneficial effects on the suffering with mental distress.“It would seem that adults willingly turn to inanimate objects when the human element has let them down (Bull 67). I think our teddy bears are our loyal friends who can take all our hurt and anger and still love us no
matter what we do to them. As one author put it, “It puts up with its owner’s moods, doesn’t complain about the odd cuff to its head, or being thrown into the corner in a fit of temper” (Severin 11).
We can explain the need for teddy bears because further here, through looking at an experiment done with monkeys. The surrogate monkey for example, contact-need or responsiveness has been shown for the monkey and chimpanzee in the experiment and is suggestive of the devotion often displayed by human infants to their pillows, blankets, and soft, cuddly stuffed toys (Harlow 2). A real mother or surrogate mother offers a safety refuge during times of danger. “This responsiveness in times of distress, disturbance, or danger may be used as a measure of the strength of affectional bonds” (Harlow 9). The results also of the experiment with the cloth mother and baby monkeys showed that love for the real mother and surrogate
mother appeared to be very much alike. The baby monkey if it is not near its mother when it’s frightened, runs to her and in her presence finds comfort and restfulness (Harlow 19).
Just as Teddy bears get old and worn out when they are played, used, and handled–we also get old and lose our physical beauty. We can compare it to people. We all give and receive so much love throughout our lifetime and we all don’t physically last forever. One of my stuffed animals is flat and not fluffy anymore because I loved it so much. An object that we just keep in a box or still in a case is neglected and never got the chance to be loved by a person, it might
hold less meaning to us. “Worn-off fur, patches, and other signs of a teddy bears age, only serve to increase its charm and strengthen its bond with its owner” (Severin p 11).
Teddy bears have a very protective symbol in America. In modern times, the bear is still considered an image of strength, courage, and endurance. Bears share many characteristics with humans, including the capability to stand on two legs and to hug, and they also guard and protect their cubs (Advameg). We all know how fierce a bear can get when it protects it’s young and although mothers may not be fierce, most would do anything to protect and comfort their child when bad things happen. With these good connections to qualities we all need and want, bears serve as a good significance to all.
Teddy bears are toys that will never get outdated or old-fashioned. “In 1999, in just the United States, collectors purchased $441 million worth of teddy bears. Certainly, as we begin our journey through a new century, we certainly need the teddy bear’s gift of unconditional acceptance, love, and reassurance more than ever” (Clay ).
This is a lot of teddy bears still being bought, which proves some things don’t fade away with time. I think teddy bears will never get outdated or old-fashioned; I think they are classics in the long history of stuffed animals. That means I think people will always have an attraction to them and that they won’t lose their appeal to all audiences. Teddy bears show us how our society has progressed. The people who have teddy bears and pass them down can see how toys have changed over time through advancements in technology. The people who created stuffed animals must have liked working with toys and designing things for children. They saw a call for teddy bears and filled that need. Now there are many more kinds of toys out there, not limited to animals. Even though kids today seem to be more attracted to electronic devices than using their imaginations to play, stuffed animals are still being bought in great numbers. (D. Kevin).
In a world with increasing importance on technology, (let me reiterate) teddy bears remind us of our childhood and provide an infinite amount of fuzzy hugs (Advameg). Today, there are thousands of different types including the teddy bear out there for us to choose from (D. Kevin)
If we think how Americans prize comfortable lifestyles, then teddy bears seem like a necessity for a little kids well-being. As we get older our prized object for girls becomes clothes, shoes, and accessories. For boys, it may become cars or sports equipment. Still at the same time I believe, there’s not a certain age where we have to give away our teddy bears. I also think that teddy bears show that in our society people are naturally social creatures. We desire physical interaction and our sense of touch is important for us and children. For example, some people like the feeling of someone brushing their hair, rubbing their arm, doing their nails, or squeezing their hand. This means that some people’s love language is physical touch as Gay Chapman said (who came up with the five love languages). Also I would like to mention a story about “The Rescuing Hug,” that I got in an email. “There were two twins in an incubator and one was not expected to live. When they were placed together, the healthier of the two but her arm around the other and the smaller baby’s heart returned to normal.” We like to hug, play, and cuddle with these stuffed animals just as we do with people.
With all the books and movies about bears, as I mentioned earlier about famous bears, they permeate through our culture and they sure seem to have a lot of significance as an object. New versions of this dearly loved animal follow trends in movies, television, and toy fashion from character bears to beanbag like versions that are inexpensive and collectible (Advameg). A teddy bear has even flown on the NASA space shuttle in 1995 (Advameg). Most of the books and movies about bears also offer good morals and lessons for children that stay with them. This helps them hang onto their childhood. It is fun for kids to imitate something they see on T.V. or movies that are harmless. This shows that society in America still is aiming some positive messages to children, despite the bad stuff.
Teddy bears have made a great mark in history and still do today. Teddy bears have changed a lot through the years, as time went on, but that has only served to make them even more eye-catching to people of all ages. Teddy bears get old and worn out but that doesn’t make them less lovable nonetheless. Most of us have had a teddy bear or are going to own one of them sometime in our lives. All of us need close contact because we are naturally social creatures. Teddy bears have a wholesome message to them and I think that teddy bears, even in our electronic age, will never become just a thing of the past.
Bull, Peter. “The Teddy Bear.” New York: Random House Inc. 1970. Print.
Harlow, Harry. “The Nature of Love.” Journal of the American Psychologist. Vol. 13. 1958. Pg. 2, 9, 19. Print.
Severin, Gustav. “Teddy Bear.” Hamburg; Transedition Books. 1995. Print.
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