Saturday, January 21, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt's bear ...

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, president of the U.S. from 1901 to 1909, was known for his abundant enthusiasm and wide range of “manly” interests -- the outdoors and hunting among them.  But on a hunting trip to Mississippi in 1904, the game he sought avoided him and his party for five days, even though a veteran game catcher named Holt Collier tried to lure animals toward the presidential party. To make matters worse, Roosevelt had allowed members of the press to visit his camp once a day, and their stories about the president’s lack of hunting success had become an embarrassment to him.

But on the next morning, as told by Edmund Morris is his 2001 book Theodore Rex, Collier’s hunting dogs scented a bear and gave chase. Roosevelt and others followed quickly, but thick brush forced them to give up. Collier suggested that they wait in a clearing for any further sightings, while he disappeared into the woods to try to drive the bear back toward the presidential party. Hours later, with Roosevelt bored and hungry, he and the men began the trip back to camp. But soon after they left, a young bear, with dogs in chase, burst through the brush and splashed, exhausted, into a pond, where it roped and captured by Collier, who tied it to a tree.
Roosevelt, notified of another bear sighting, rode back quickly, but was so disappointed to seeing the small, injured bear tied to a tree that he refused to shoot it. Instead, he called for someone else to “put it out of its misery.”  The hunting trip continued for another three days without success.

But according to Morris’ book, “[Roosevelt] did not know … that the outside world was already applauding his ‘sportsmanlike’ refusal to kill for killing’s sake.” The bear as drawn by a Washington Post cartoonist was so liked by readers that they asked for more “bear cartoons,” and the cartoonist obliged with many more. “With repetition,” writes Morris, “his original lean bear became smaller, rounder, and cuter,” and was soon part of almost all cartoons involving Roosevelt.
That winter, by some weird circumstance, a toy factory in Germany began producing “stuffed, plush bear cubs with button eyes and movable joints,” and 3,000 were ordered by a New York store. At the same time, a small New York toymaker came out with a similar small bear. The rest is history, as they say.

Notes Morris:  “The competing bears soon fused, along with [the cartoonist’s] cub, into a single cuddly entity that attached to itself the nickname of the President of the United States.” The Teddy Bear was born, although few people today link it to its namesake.

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