Teddy Bears: Country Trends

The teddy bear is usually considered to be an American creation, but there are other historical accounts. The teddy bear immediately became popular in America and Britain, but the chronology is a bit different in other European countries. Germany became a major manufacturer of teddy bears, I'm less sure how popular they were with German children. A French reader indicated that teddies ("nounours") were not common in France until the 1930s. Teddy bears are not as an effective indicator of gender as of chronology. Both boys and girls had teddies. However, after 1902 a younger American boy was much more likely to have a teddy than a doll. The chronology varied in other countries, but the same basic tendency is observable.


The teddy bear immediately became popular in America and Britain in 1902. Both boys and girls had teddies. However, after 1902 a younger merican boy was much more likely to have a teddy than a doll. Most American boys grew up with teddies in the first half of the 20th century. Many remember their cherished teddied to this day. A wider range of stuffed animals began to appear in the 1960s. A HBC reader writes, "When I was about 4-5 years old in the 1950s, I had a medium sized brown Teddy with button eyes, and a yellow nose. I also had one of thos ebeige colored "sock monkeys" with the big red lips. We never forget our friends!"


Not all the memories about teddies are leasant ones. An Australian reader tells us, "I had a tatty old brown bear for my first day of school and I got called British 'teddyboy' and 'poshie washie' by the big boys at my school. One of the bullies actually ripped off Teddy's head and cut his legs off with a paper guillitine (paper cutter) before tossing it back to me. I cried all the way home."

Figure 1.--Attitudes at English preparatoty schools toward teddies and other stuffed animals began to change in the 1970s as younger boys began brining their cherished teddies to school. By the 1980s, most children had a teddie or other stuffed animal on their bed. The teedie itself changed. The traditional teddy bear was quite rare, boys were more likely to have a different stuffed animal. They were a wide selection to choose from.


Some toy historians claim the creation of the teddy bear for England, pointing out that England's new king--Edward VII in 1902 was nicknamed "Teddy". While this is a much less likely creation of the teddy bear, it is undeniable that English writers made the teddy bear an almost necessary part of an English childhood. AA. Milne's Christopher Robin had as his best companion of course Winnie the Poo drawn by Ernest Shepard. There is also of course the wonderful Padington Bear. Even adult authors have used the teddy bear. The university student Sebastian could not part with his teddy in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Of course the actual relationship between a boy and his teddy was not al all like that. An English boy and his teddy were almost inseperable until age 8. It was at this time that most affluent boys were sent off to their preparatory boparding schools. Boys who made the mistake of bringing there cherished teddies were terribly teased and none made the mistake of returning to school with them after the first break. This continued through the 1960s. By the 1980s this had changed, in part because of the increasing tendency of the schools to become coeducational. A tour of virtaully any prep school dormitory would find the beds complete with a wide array of teddies--or more correctly stuffed animals of virtually every description. The only major difference between those of the boys and girls, other than more dinosaurs for the boys, is that the boys' teddies and other stuffed animals are slightly the worse for wear.


A French reader indicated that teddies ("nounours") were not common in France until the 1930s. Teddy bears are not as an effective indicator of gender as of chronology. They were, however, quite strongly associated with boys in France. Girls were much more likely to have dolls. A French reader reports, "I must add in France that little boys pften played with cloth-doll. After 1930, the mothers preferd to replace the doll with "nounours" (teddy bars) (pronounced: noo-noo-rs. Today all little French boys (sometime till 12 years old!) have a nounours. It is common for children in nursery school to bring their nounours to nursery school. So little boys often set off the nirsery school with "nounours" in their backpacks. "Nounours" are now a very important companion for all French children. They often have many, but usually only one is there veryb favorite. Nowadays the classic teddy has been replaced by an other animal character such as Mickey Mouse or other according to the imagination of toy companies. finding in the shops. A French reader writes, "One of my daughters are very fond of "nounours" and has a huge collection. My little granson (5 years old) never forget to bring his favorite 'nounour' when he comes to visit."


The German word for teddy bear is " Teddybaer ". Although that is not what they were originlly called. Germany became a major manufacturer of cuddly stuffed bears years before they acquired the name "teddy bears". Germany is strongly associated with the early history of the teddy bear because of Margarete Steiff became renounded for making toy bears. Stiff lived in Geingen, Germany. She reportedly made her first toy bears from the sketches her nephew had done of the bears at the local zoo. She began making felt bears and other animals that were soft and cuddly in 1877. She was disabled and confined to a wheelchair after being stricken by polio as a child. The Steiff factory produced thousands of teddy bears and other animals. Large numbers were exported, but theyvwere also extemsively sold throughout Germany so German children obviously played with them. The Steiff trademark was a "button in ear". That's how you recognize a Steiff product. Her bears in 1903 were displayed at the Leipzig Trade Fair, although they were not called teddy bears. An American buyer, capitalizing on the publicity over teddy bears in the United States, placed an order for 3,000 bears which was soon increased. The Steiff Company by 1907 was one of Germany's largest toy comopanies. The Steiff bears were some of the most wonderful early teddies and are particularly prosed by collectors today. Steiff teddies are still being made and a HBC reader reports seeing some at FAO Schwarz in San Francisco in 2002. HBC is, however, less sure as to just how popular they were with German children. We note that the Germans apparently eventually adopted the term teddies for their bears. We note that German children like American children became very attached to their teddies. We note a touching account about a German girl named Charlotte and her teddy. And a German reader, Hans, has provided us an image of his teddies and other stuffed animals.


No information available at this time.


No information available at this time.


The Dutch word for teddy bear is " Teddybeer ".The pronunciation about the same as in English. A Dutch reader tells us, "I used to have a teddy bear when I was little in the Netherlands. My brother had one too. They were very loyal to us and did not want to be handled by strangers .... As a child I read Milne's stories with gusto (in Dutch of course, I didn't know English yet): Winnie the Pooh, When We Were Six, and The House at Pooh Corner. Wonderful books with very attractive illustrations they were. In Dutch we also read the story of "Bruintje Beer" (Little Brown Bear) and "Ollie B. Bommel" by Maarten Toonder, a big, slow-moving, but dignified bear, who also appeared in comic strips. I believe that bears were the most desired animals for children."


When we created the country teddy page, we did not think that Sudan wold be one of the countries we would add to the list. But now the Sudan is now a country that has to be included. This because of a 54-year old British teacher Gillian Gibbons who became fascinated with Sudan and decided to teach there so she could lear more about the country and the people and she certainly fulfilled her goal! Gibbons is no doubt a sensative, idealistic woman. Like many of her generation in the West, she is comitted to the idea of cultural relativity or that cultural values are relative and that we in the West should not judge Third World societies on the basis of our values. Like virtually all British people she had fond mempries of teddies as a child and much of used them with her Brirish students. So she apparently brought a teddy with her to use in her 2nd-grade Sudanese class of 7-year olds. The children were enchanted by the teddy and out of affection named it Mohammed. Ms. Gibbons had no role in this, but did not prevent the children from doing this. It was an innocent mistake. The Sudanese are of course unfamilar with teddies. They havecread about bears and know they can be fierce animals. Arabs in general do not have the tendency of us in the West to ascribe human caracteristics to animals and give them human names. (The dogs we in the Wst love have a very different status in Arab countries.) Thus some parents complained about Ms. Gibbons. Now a reasonable response would be for the parents to have spoken with Ms. Gibbons and explain that nmming the teddy Mohammed was inappropriate. Or they could have gone to the school principal. Instead they went to the police. The police arrested Ms. Gibbons and charged her of 1) insulting religion, 2) inciting hatred, and 3) showing contempt for religious beliefs. This could have resulted in a sentence of 40 lashes and 6 months in prison. The court in a closed session cinvicted Ms. Gibbons and sentenced her to 15 days and jail after which she will be deported. [Sullivan] After the sentence was announced, crowds in Khartoum marched theough the streets, bradishing machettes and demanding that Ms. Gibbons be put to death.


Sullivan, Kevin. "Sudan convicts teacher in naming of teddy bear," Washington Post (November 30, 2007), p. A18.


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Created: January 5, 2001
Last updated: 4:06 AM 10/6/2007