The History of the Teddy Bear: From Wet and Angry to Soft and Cuddly
Boxed and wrapped in paper and bows, teddy bears have been placed lovingly underneath Christmas trees for generations, to the delight of tots and toddlers around the world. But the teddy bear is an American original: Its story begins with a holiday vacation taken by President Theodore Roosevelt.
By the spring of 1902, the United Mine Workers of America were on strike, seeking shorter workdays and higher wages from a coal industry that was suffering from oversupply and low profits. The mine owners had welcomed the strike because they could not legally shut down production; it gave them a way to save on wages while driving up demand and prices.
Neither side was willing to give in, and fearing a deadly wintertime shortage of coal, Roosevelt decided to intervene, threatening to send in troops to the Midwest to take over the anthracite mines if the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. Throughout the fall, despite the risk of a major political setback, Roosevelt met with union representatives and coal operators. In late October, as temperatures began to drop, the union and the owners struck a deal.
After averting that disaster, Roosevelt decided he needed a vacation, so he accepted an invitation from Mississippi Governor Andrew Longino to head south for a hunting trip. Longino was the first Mississippi governor elected after the Civil War who was not a Confederate veteran, and he would soon be facing a re-election fight against James Vardaman, who declared, “If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” Longino was clearly hoping that a visit from the popular president might help him stave off a growing wave of such sentiment. Vardaman called Roosevelt the “coon-flavored miscegenist in the White House.”