The teddy bear, that cute 20th century icon and everyone’s favourite childhood soft toy, has an enviable pedigree. Inspired into existence more than a hundred years ago by no less than a former President of the United States in America, and almost simultaneously in Germany, teddy bears went on to capture the public imagination as no other stuffed toy has done so far. It was eminently cuddly, endearing and comforting. Small wonder than almost everyone, from distinguished statesmen to the kid in the neighbourhood clamoured for one.
Did you know that in 1985, London’s auction house Christies held its first-ever auction of old teddy bears? Teddy bears are, without doubt, everyone’s favourite stuffed animal.
Here are some of the all-time favourites:
1. Winnie the Pooh / Pooh Bear
Winnie the Pooh is arguably one of the most famous bears ever. He is a fictional character created by A.A Milne, a highly regarded author and playwright. His birth has an interesting story…
During a routine halt of a train carrying troops from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) to eastern Canada during the WWI, at White River, Ontario, a young lieutenant Harry Colebourn bought a small female black bear cub from the man who had just shot its mother. The orphan was named ‘Winnipeg’, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and shortened to ‘Winnie’.
In December 1919, Colebourn presented the London Zoo with Winnie where it quickly became a huge attraction. The London Zoo became Winnie’s home till she died in 1934.
Christopher Robin, son of author A.A. Milne, used to love this small, black bear and had even nicknamed his own stuffed bear ‘Winnie’. It was his son’s fascination for this bear that prompted Milne to write a whole series of books about Winnie the Pooh. Incidentally, the name of Pooh originally belonged to a swan. ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ was published by Methuen on October 14th, 1926.
Today, children’s toy shops are dominated by Pooh paraphernalia. There are Winnie-the-Pooh bears, clothes, bedding, animated cartoons, and even web sites.
2. Paddington Bear
A classic among children’s literature, Paddington Bear has been charming children of all ages since it was first created by a British writer, Michael Bond, in 1958.
Bond chanced upon a teddy bear sitting somewhat forlornly on a shelf in a store near Paddington Station in London in 1956. Something about this solitary creature caught Bond’s imagination and he soon penned the first book called ‘A Bear Called Paddington’. This adorable little bear is actually an immigrant who hailed from Darkest Peru. He hid himself on the lifeboat of a ship and arrived in England, as advised by his Aunt Lucy who had reared him so far.
This little bear immediately endeared himself to its young (and not-so-young) readers with his old hat, battered suitcase, duffle coat and love of marmalade sandwiches. Although he had a talent for getting into trouble, he also had an almost-human sense of right and wrong and shunned wild adventures.
The first Paddington Bear soft toy was created in 1972 by Gabrielle Designs, a small business run by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson. It was Shirley Clarkson who gave young Paddington his trademark Wellington boots to help the bear stand upright.
Paddington bear books have been translated into thirty languages across seventy titles and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.
3. Fozzie Bear
Originally created by Jim Henson, Fozzie Bear is the widely loved stand-up comedian of The Muppet Show. This orange-brown, fuzzy Muppet bear usually has his young audience in splits as he tells bad jokes, sprinkled with his catchphrase, ‘Wocka wocka wocka!’ Fozzie’s attempts at humour are usually greeted a shower of rotten tomatoes and ridicule, from his two hecklers Statler and Waldorf.
4. Corduroy Bear
Corduroy is a classic heart-warming tale written by Don Freeman in 1968. It tells the story of a teddy bear named Corduroy, who is bought in a department store by a girl named Lisa, making it one of the most-loved children’s stories of all times. The endearing story of Corduroy begins when all the shoppers have gone home for the night, and Corduroy climbs down from his shelf to hunt for his missing button. His adventures that night open new vistas for him the following morning. A little girl named Lisa arrives at the store and buys him with the money she had saved in her piggy bank. She takes him home and installs Corduroy in her room. That’s when Corduroy decides that he has finally reached ‘home’ and that Lisa must be his friend.
5. Rupert Bear
Rupert The Bear is a hot favourite with the children in the UK. This lovable bear was created by the English artist Mary Tourtel and made his debut as a comic strip in ‘The Daily Express’, a British newspaper in 8 November 1920. Since then he has become significant to children’s culture in the United Kingdom and continues to appear in the same paper today.
Failing eyesight forced Mary to stop drawing the cartoon in 1935. Alfred Bestall took over her job and continued drawing and writing about the adventures of Rupert for the next 35 years, until he retired in 1965. Since then, various artists have kept alive Rupert, who is extremely popular with children.
6. Yogi Bear
Yogi Bear is another famous fictional cartoon character, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1957. Young Yogi is an annoying yet lovable little grizzly bear who is famous for outwitting campers and making off with their picnic hampers in the Jellystone National park. What’s more, he calls himself as being “smarter than the average bear.”
A staple of the early television years, Yogi He made his television debut in 1958 as a supporting character in The Huckleberry Hound Show. Racing up the popularity charts and proving to outshine Huckleberry Hound himself, in January 1961 Yogi bear graduated to his very own show called The Yogi Bear Show.
7. Smokey The Bear
Smokey has been an enduring icon and a mascot of the United States Forest Service. Smokey Bear was created to create public awareness about the prevention and the dangers of forest fires. This lovable bear has been educating old and young about the dangers of forest fires for the past 60 years.
Smokey’s name was inspired by a hero of the New York City Fire Department, “Smoky” Joe Martin, who made headlines for his bold 1922 rescue despite blindness and severe burns. Smokey the mascot also had a living namesake who was a real American black bear. In the spring of 1950, as a small cub at that time, Smokey was trapped in the Lincoln National Forest in the Capitan Gap wildfire that raged across 17,000 acres in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. The brave young cub clambered up a tree, but not quickly enough. His tender paws and hind legs were scorched badly and he was finally rescued by a game warden after the fire. Smokey the mascot soon became an indelible part of popular American culture in the 1950s.
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