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Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and fifty-four.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed to learn what tragedy inspired the song “Hey Man, Nice Shot” and just what sort of twisted band name Stone Temple Pilots tried to use before they went with their current name.
Also, starting this past Tuesday, you can read Sports Legends from me at the LA Times’ website! Check out the first one here.
COMIC LEGEND: The teddy bear was inspired by a famous CK Berryman cartoon that appeared in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902.
STATUS: False Enough for a False, for an interesting reason
In November of 1902, the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, went on a bear-hunting trip while he was in Mississippi to give an opinion over a border dispute. The trip was covered with much interest by the nation (well, at least by the nation’s newspapers, as he had a large amount of reporters following him).
The trip was nearing its close and most of the hunters had managed to bag a bear, but not the President.
Figuring that it would look good for the President to kill a bear, Roosevelt’s aides found a young black bear and after a long, hard pursuit of the bear with hounds, and after clubbing the bear nearly to death, Roosevelt’s aides managed to tie the bear to a tree and then informed the President that here, here was a bear that you can kill!
Roosevelt was disgusted at the unsportsmanlike nature of the notion, and refused to shoot the bear (although he did tell his men to put the animal out of its misery).
The news of Roosevelt’s decision made its way back to Washington DC, and Clifford “CK” Berryman (who I featured in the Stars of Political Cartooning here) produced a cartoon that would become famous all throughout the United States, being reprinted in many newspapers.
Titled “Drawing the line in Mississippi” (a play of words on the border dispute Roosevelt was there for), the November 16, 1902 cartoon depicts Roosevelt choosing not to shoot a cute little bear…
That cute little bear would be come to be a trademark of Berryman’s, and he would work it into most of his cartoons about Roosevelt for the rest of Roosevelt’s presidency (and even after Roosevelt finished his time as President)….
The cartoon apparently inspired a candy shop owned by Morris Michtom (who would often make little stuffed animals with his wife to sell in the store) to begin selling a stuffed bear toy (after receiving permission from Roosevelt) as “Teddy’s Bear,” which, of course, became known as a Teddy Bear and soon become one of the most popular toys in the world. This led Michtom to form Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, a company that still exists today (here is a “Teddy Bear” from 1903)…
(there’s debate over whether the popularity of these bears necessarily came from Roosevelt, or if there was just a bit of a zeitgeist with stuffed animals during the early 20th Century, as a German stuffed animal company ALSO began to push stuffed bear toys at around the same time, without being influenced by Roosevelt – but that’s really neither here nor there)
But here’s the twist in the whole endeavor.
That cartoon by Berryman?
NOT actually the cartoon he drew in the Washington Post originally!
Despite it being referred to as such by many different sources, here is the ACTUAL cartoon Berryman originally drew…
As you can see, it is the same basic concept, but it was a quick, very rough drawing, NOT the detailed piece that is shown all the time.
Clearly, when there appeared to be interest in his original from other newspapers, Berryman decided to completely re-draw the entire cartoon, including coming up with an entirely different look for the bear, going from a normal looking bear to a cute, cuddly bear. And it is that re-drawn cartoon that became syndicated all over the country. And it was that re-drawn cartoon that inspired the “teddy bear.”
So if you ever see the “cute little bear” cartoon passed off as the original (and you’ll see it often if you look for it), you now know better!
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