The Origins of the Beloved Teddy Bear

  • Teddy Bear with tag
Teddy Bear with tag
Credit: Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt is known as the first conservationist President, having established national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests during his time in the White House. It seems fitting, then, that one of the world’s most recognizable animal figures — the beloved teddy bear — was inspired by and named after the 26th U.S. President. 

Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

In November 1902, Roosevelt joined Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino on a hunting trip in Mississippi. On the second day of the trip, Roosevelt’s aides — including guide Holt Collier, a skilled hunter in his own right — captured a bear, tied it to a tree, and presented it to the President, who was eager to start the trip off strong with a catch. Roosevelt, however, refused to shoot the restrained bear. He may have been an avid hunter, but he found it unsportsmanlike to harm a defenseless animal. 

The hunting incident attracted attention in the press. Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot a small, tied bear in “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” a cartoon that doubled as a commentary on the President’s handling of a state border dispute. The cute bear cub character became popular with Americans, and in the ensuing years, Berryman continued to use the bear as a symbol for President Roosevelt, who was commonly known as “Teddy,” short for Theodore.

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