In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi governor, Andrew Longino, on a bear hunt. Being quite the outdoorsman and hunter, Roosevelt jumped at the chance.
Everything was going great. The hunt was unsuccessful so far, but the scenery was beautiful! The hired guide, a man named Holt Collier, went ahead with the hunting hounds and left Longino and Roosevelt to keep a leisurely pace. That’s when the dogs caught a scent and took off!
Collier and his hounds found and surrounded a small black bear, but with the President nowhere in sight, he decided to subdue it. After his dogs backed the animal into a corner, he gave it a tough whack with a club and tied a rope around its neck and to the nearest tree.
When Teddy walked onto the scene, he was furious. As a hunter, he wanted a fair fight, and the poor creature was already beaten black and blue. So Roosevelt ordered the animal humanely put down and refused to take it as a trophy.
Shortly after the hunt, newspaper cartoonist Clifford Berryman released this drawing in the Washington Post: Teddy Roosevelt in his Rough Riders cowboy getup, hand extended behind him in a ‘stop’ sign toward the small black bear which struggled against its noose and the man pulling the other end of the rope.
The comic sparked an adoration for Teddy in many Americans, a cuddly cute black bear saved by the gruff, steadfast, and pretty-cuddly-himself President.
Berryman’s drawing also sparked an idea in one candy-and-toy-making couple: to make a stuffed bear toy and to name it after the President. Teddy’s Bear: in honor of the President who wouldn’t shoot a bear! So Morris and Rose Michtom sent Teddy a letter asking for permission to use his name to sell their bears. Teddy was dubious at best about the Michtoms’ prospects, but he agreed. And thus, Teddy’s Bear was born.
Over a century later, Teddy’s bears are privately and commercially produced by brands across the world, some as recognizable as Carebears, Build-a-Bear, and Teddy Ruxpin! Today, it’s become normalized to give ‘teddy bears’—technically slang but we’ll allow it—to a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, a friend in the hospital, or little kids on their birthdays.
Research over the past half century has shown that children in distress can often benefit from the simple act of being given a teddy bear. Something about its soft stuffing and the familiarity of the animal kids are often shown as lovable protectors in cartoons and animated films—Winnie the Pooh, Baloo the Bear, Corduroy—soothes the child. It’s why many children’s hospitals, clinics, pediatricians, and nonprofit organizations seek to provide distressed, sick, and neglected children with teddy bears.
It’s kind of crazy how one small decision in one small moment in one man’s life led to the development of an instrument for soothing children and expressing love. But as Teddy himself liked to say, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He certainly did that, time and time again. Roosevelt lived very much in the present and the now, and that was one of his best traits. We all have a thing or two to learn from Teddy in that regard.
Teddy’s Great Quotes:
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
“Do Something Now. If not you, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?”
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”