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Why a Bear?

The "Pop-up" Cinderella: including Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and the three bears, Puss-in-boots, 1933.

Today is Teddy Bear Day. Teddy bears are such a normal part of our childhood that it's surprising to realize that they have only been "standard" since the last century:

The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was "Teddy". The name originated from an incident on a bear-hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902 . . . A suite of Roosevelt's attendants, led by Holt Collier,[1] cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike,[2] but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery[citation needed], and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902.[3] While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a white handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.[4] Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and the bear cub and was inspired to create a new toy. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read "Teddy's bear," after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name.—Wikipedia

Of course the Smithsonian has one of the original "Teddy's bears" on display. But Teddy's bear is hardly the only bear that children cuddle up to, both figuratively and literally. Or I should say, literary-ly. Bears figure prominently in nursery rhymes (Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear), fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Snow White and Rose Red and of course favorite children's character Winnie the Pooh. It's hard to argue with a bear who always wants to be with you and is always reassuring:

“If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever”

“If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"—A.A. Milne

Words to live (and cuddle) by.

Elizabeth Periale


National Museum Of American History: Teddy Bear

Inside Smithsonian Research: A literary connection on the nursery wall

Museum of Childhood: Bears in Stories

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