Margarete Steiff

Margarete Steiff

German businesswoman, owner of a soft toy factory
Date of Birth: 24.07.1847
Country: Germany

  1. Margarete Steiff: The Woman Behind the Teddy Bear
  2. Early Life and Challenges
  3. A Passion for Sewing
  4. The Birth of the Teddy Bear
  5. An International Icon

Margarete Steiff: The Woman Behind the Teddy Bear

Margarete Steiff, a German businesswoman and owner of a soft toy factory, is known in history as one of the possible inventors of the teddy bear. However, the question of who invented the teddy bear and where it originated from still remains unanswered, as both the United States and Germany saw the introduction of plush toy bears almost simultaneously in 1902-1903.

Margarete Steiff

Early Life and Challenges

Margarete Steiff was born in 1847 in the German town of Giengen, Germany. She was the third of four children in the family of Friedrich Steiff, a master builder, and his wife Maria. Margarete was born healthy and grew up as an active child, but at the age of one and a half, she was struck by polio. Although she managed to recover from the devastating disease, she lost the ability to walk and became confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Margarete Steiff

Despite her physical limitations, Margarete did not consider herself helpless. She radiated a positive aura and her cheerful and sociable nature made her very popular among family members and friends. Her classmates helped her get to school and carried her wheelchair up the stairs. Margarete led a very active lifestyle and spent a lot of time outdoors. She even invented most of the games the children played. Even an unsuccessful leg operation did not break her spirit, and she worked hard to catch up with her classmates.

A Passion for Sewing

In the mid-1850s, Margarete developed a passion for sewing. Her father strongly objected to it, believing that there were no prospects in this field and wanting to protect his daughter from disappointment. However, Margarete refused to believe that she was hopeless and eventually learned how to sew, proving to her parents that her wheelchair did not limit her future.

When Margarete turned 17, she accepted the fact that she would never walk and focused on sewing. Her father converted their home into a workshop on the ground floor specifically for Margarete, and she began taking orders. Interestingly, her two sisters also worked with her. As Margarete's business grew, she even hired additional employees. By this time, the demand for their creations was so high that they released the first catalog of soft toys in 1892.

The Birth of the Teddy Bear

In the year 1880, Margarete sewed several elephant pincushions using leftover fabric, which she distributed as Christmas gifts. These adorable little elephants caught the attention of children, who immediately started playing with them. People began ordering more elephant pincushions, and this inspired Margarete to gradually produce not only elephants but also other animals. In 1902, the first teddy bear was produced at her factory. This new type of toy had movable limbs and glass eyes, and it was more expensive than traditional plush toys. However, by the following year, it became clear that the teddy bear was an absolute hit. From then on, the teddy bear became the best-selling toy at Margarete Steiff's family business, which was named 'Margarete Steiff GmbH'.

Meanwhile, in 1902, the American President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Mississippi. In addition to his official duties, he also planned to go hunting. However, the hunting trip did not go well, and the only bear the hunters managed to drive out of the forest looked so pathetic that Roosevelt refused to shoot it. This act of compassion by the President was widely covered in the press, and Americans loved their President's kindness. The bear he spared was immediately named "Teddy Bear" and became a symbol of goodness and compassion.

An International Icon

In 1903, Americans purchased 3,000 teddy bears from Margarete Steiff at the Leipzig Fair. This further fueled the debate over which country should be considered the birthplace of the teddy bear – Germany, where it originated, or the United States, where it gained its name and popularity.

Regardless, Margarete Steiff's name, a woman in a wheelchair, has firmly and forever become part of the history of toys. She lived only until the age of 61 and passed away on May 9, 1909, due to pneumonia.