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11 Adorable Facts You Never Knew About Teddy Bears

Updated: Oct. 11, 2021

Spoiler alert: The Teddy Roosevelt story isn't as heartwarming as you thought.

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Library of Congress

Their origin story doesn’t have a happy ending

You know the tale: During a 1902 hunting trip, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s companions managed to capture a bear and tie it to a tree so the president, who hadn’t managed to make a kill so far, could do the honors of shooting it. But when Roosevelt saw the cub, he walked away, stating it would be unsportsmanlike to kill the poor creature. Inspired by a cartoon about the story, a Brooklyn shop owner got permission from the president to call his stuffed animals “Teddy’s Bears.” But the whole story of the hunt isn’t totally warm and fuzzy. Roosevelt told his companion to “Put it out of its misery,” so the man killed the bear with a knife after the president left. Did you know Teddy Roosevelt was also a stilt walker? Check out other little-known presidential talents.

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Stuffed bears would still exist without Theodore Roosevelt

German toy maker Margarete Steiff made a stuffed bear after a trip to the zoo sparked her nephew to design a stuffed bear he asked her to make in 1903. She was afraid bears would be too scary for kids, so she designed them with button eyes, stitched mouths and noses, and movable arms and legs—very similar to the design of the American bears that became so popular.

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Library of Congress

Teddy bears mourned the Titanic

After the Titanic sank in 1912, German toy company Steiff created 500 teddy bears to honor the victims. The “mourning bears” were black with red-rimmed eyes to show their sympathy. They now sell for $20,000 or more in auctions. Here are 13 surprising things you never knew about the Titanic.

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iStock/Catherine Lane

Winnie the Pooh was based on a real bear

A Canadian soldier bought a black bear cub from a hunter during World War I, and the animal became a pet and mascot for his troop. The bear, named Winnipeg, later was given to the London Zoological Gardens, where Christopher Robin Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne’s son, took such a liking to her that he named his teddy bear after her.

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iStock/Vasiliki Varvaki

They’ve become easier to clean

The stuffing was unhygienic until husband-and-wife toymakers Wendy Boston and Ken Williams invented washable teddy bears in 1954. The Wales-made toys used nylon instead of mohair, wood wool, kapok, and other hard-to-clean materials.

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Teddies can be teensy

The smallest commercially available stitched teddy bear is a mere 0.29 inches tall, made by South African “microbear” maker Cheryl Moss, whose largest creations are just taller than half an inch.

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But the largest towers way, way above them

The world’s largest stitched teddy bear was made in 2008 in America, where bigger is better. The 55-foot-4 creation is named C.T.Dreams, which stands for Connect the Dreams, and you can visit it at the Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas—a state literally flatter than a pancake. Read more astonishing facts about all 50 states.

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iStock/&#169 Taylor Hinton

Winning one (or two or 3,000) from an arcade is possible

Gamer Yuka Nakajima is the undisputed world champion of claw machines, which are called UFO catchers in Japan, where she’s from. She’s managed to snag more than 3,500 teddy bears from the arcade games. Here’s how to win every tricky carnival game.

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They’re the best-traveled toys

Between 2009 and 2010, British company ISPY sent teddy bear Raymondo on a trip that gave him the status of the world’s most traveled toy mascot. In less than a year, he traveled 395,605 miles, hitting six continents and 35 countries with airline crew members and sponsors.

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In fact, they don’t stop at world travel

Magellan T. Bear became the first teddy bear in space when he boarded Space Shuttle Discovery in 1995. But he wasn’t just a bear on holiday—he was the “education specialist” on the mission, having been a project for a Colorado elementary school. The teddy bear later flew around the world, visited the South Pole, and more.

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Your teddy collection doesn’t stand a chance

Jackie Miley, from Hilly City, South Dakota, has the world’s biggest teddy bear collection. As of 2012, she owned 8,026 cuddly bears.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest