Top Navigation

In this photo, Jacksonville kids watch several grizzly bears performing in a street in 1905.
These adults seem to be having a nice time with a teddy bear and a fancy doll. This is a very early teddy, since the toys were created in 1902 and the picture dates from about 1905. The photo was taken in Florida, but the Florida Photographic Collection doesn't indicate exactly where.
A teddy bear keeps company with five little girls at the Jacksonville Public Library in 1925. The youngsters may've engrossed in their picture books, or maybe they were chatting about a silent flick they saw the evening before. At that time, the biggest female star was "America's Sweetheart," little Mary Pickford, a 30-something-year-old who dressed similarly to these children. Pickford was soon eclipsed, though, by Clara Bow, the sizzling "It Girl." The Free Public Library building still stands at 101 East Adams Street, four blocks northeast of the Jacksonville Landing. A law office occupies the stately old structure, which dates from 1905.

Show Bears & Teddy Bears

THE BEAR FACTS — Just three years before this photo was snapped, teddy bears had been invented in 1902. And the idea came from performing bears, like the ones above. In Germany, a toy designer named Richard Steiff visited a touring American circus. He sought inspiration for a new plaything. Steiff watched a troupe of performing bears, and the rest was history.

There had been toy bears before, walking on all fours and often made from real fur. Steiff, however, wanted something different. He and his aunt Margarete, the founder of the toy company for which Richard worked, collaborated on a new design. Their bears would stand upright, jointed in a way similar to dolls. Richard drew up the plans, while Margarete prepared the prototypes from scraps of mohair cloth, made the hair of an Angora goat.

Teddy bears caught the fancy of kids across the globe. Nowadays, the Steiff company may be the world’s leading & best known soft toy manufacturer. Mohair also continues to be the cloth that covers many traditional bears.

As for the “teddy” in teddy bears, this came from the President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt in 1902. The outdoor-loving President had gone on a Mississippi hunt one day, but he didn’t bag anything. Concerned about this, an aide discovered a lost bear cub wandering through the woods. He tied the cub to a tree and bought brought Roosevelt to it. The President could claim a trophy after all! Roosevelt, however, refused to shoot the defenseless creature. He ordered it to be set free.

The press quickly published the story, along with a popular cartoon of it. This inspired a Brooklyn candy store owner, Morris Michtom. Using the cartoon as a guide, Michtom & his wife put together a little jointed toy bear cub. Michtom placed the plaything in his shop window. Beside it was a copy of the cartoon & a handwritten notice saying “Teddy’s Bear.” The toy sold so well that, within a year, Michtom closed his candy store and established the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co., still one of the biggest toy firms on the planet.

People often picture real bears as fierce & aggressive, yet they’re usually peaceful & solitary creatures. Bears rank as the largest of the carnivores (flesh-eaters) on land, but they also prove to be the least carnivorous. They consume a variety of things.

Bears are closely related to dogs and raccoons, and most bears can easily adjust to life in captivity. They’re one of the shrewdest & most intelligent of animals in zoos. Circuses have featured performing bears since the Middle Ages. The creatures can be taught such tricks as wrestling, boxing, dancing, blowing a horn, riding a bicycle, and sliding on a toboggan. Today, of course, the keeping of bears & other wild animals in captivity proves quite controversial.

Copyright © 2019 by Jacksonville Historical Society