In honor of Valentine’s Day being earlier this week, I’ll discuss something cute and cuddly. Not Richard Steiff himself (I have no idea what he looked like), but his invention: the stuffed toy bear.* This fine invention is now known as the Teddy Bear, but since that naming relates to a guy named Theodore (which is decidedly not the name Richard), you’ll have to check another website for that tale.
*Some Americans were also working on teddy bears, but I’m giving Steiff credit because it’s my website (and I’ll cry if I want to).
For those of you who are not experts in the plush-toy scene, Steiff is a German company that makes some of the best and most expensive plush toys around (I cannot say the best because I am not that much of an expert about stuffed toys). All of their plush toys come with little buttons in their ears, attached to yellow Steiff tags. This is referred to as “Knopf im Ohr” or “Button in Ear,” and if your toy doesn’t have it then it’s not a Steiff. Their motto is “Für Kinder ist nur das beste gut genug,” which translates to “Only the best is good enough for [our] children.” And you know they take this seriously because, in the words of the Sham-Wow guy, “Germans always make good stuff!”
The Steiff Toy Company was started by Richard’s aunt, Margarete Steiff, for whom Richard went to work in 1897. Richard, who had attended Stuttgart School of Art, liked to draw sketches of bears that he saw at the zoo, and he based his first prototype on his drawings.
In 1903 Richard took some of the bears to the Leipzig Toy Fair (Leipzig also has an awesome book fair), where they attracted little attention – except from an American buyer. This guy bought all one hundred bears that Richard had brought to the show and ordered 3,000 more. At the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Steiff sold about 12,000 toy bears. A plush-toy empire was born.
And while the company is named after his aunt, headquarters are located on Richard-Steiff-Straße. So if you received a teddy bear with your Valentine’s chocolate you can thank Richard Steiff for building such splendid bears and the American public for being crazy enough to buy immense quantities.
Want more info or to purchase a Steiff for yourself? Try these links: