Origins of the Teddy Bear

by Elizabeth Berlin Taylor



The term "teddy bear," used to describe a stuffed toy bear, originated in 1902 during the Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. By examining the political cartoons of Clifford K. Berryman, students will learn that the teddy bear is a relatively new concept that derived from Theodore Roosevelt's fascination with the outdoors and Berryman's chronicling of one particular hunting adventure.


Theodore Roosevelt was the nation's twenty-sixth president. He served from 1900 to 1909.  Although he was born in New York City, Roosevelt developed a strong affinity for nature, the outdoors and exercising "strenuously." One of Roosevelt's enduring legacies is conservation and the protection of land. Throughout his life, Roosevelt was a hunting enthusiast. During a hunt in Mississippi in 1902, Roosevelt was unable to find a bear to shoot. Some of his companions finally found an old sickly bear and tied it to a tree for Roosevelt to kill. Roosevelt's refusal to kill that bear (though he had his aides subsequently put it down) was caricatured by Clifford K. Berryman in a political cartoon which then spawned the teddy bear named after Theodore Roosevelt.

Clifford Berryman was born in Kentucky in 1869. At age seventeen he moved to Washington, DC and drew patent illustrations. In 1891 he became an understudy to a cartoonist at The Washington Post and he became the chief cartoonist in 1896.  Throughout his career, he drew cartoons of each president from Grover Cleveland to Harry Truman. Berryman portrayed Roosevelt refusing to shoot a corralled bear in Drawing the Line in Mississippi, in November 1902. Subsequently, Berryman drew teddy bears in many of his political cartoons that featured Roosevelt.


Essential Question

What does the creation of the teddy bear convey about the character of Theodore Roosevelt?


Ask students to respond to the question, "What are some major issues that are important to you?"  The teacher will record student answers on the chart paper.  Ask if anyone thought the environment was important and why or why not.  Add that to the list on the chart paper.


  • Students will be able to analyze political cartoons
  • Students will be able to identify the environment as an important concern to Theodore Roosevelt
  • Students will be able to explain the advent of the idea of the teddy bear


  1. After the motivation, inform students that we are going to be looking at one of Theodore Roosevelt's major concerns and in the process we will be solving a mystery:  where does the idea of the teddy bear come from?
  2. Put students in four small groups and give each group a Berryman cartoon to analyze as well as a political cartoon analysis sheet.  Give groups ten minutes to analyze the cartoon (you may want to model a cartoon analysis for the entire class before breaking into groups).
  3. Students will switch groups to form new small groups in which all the participants analyzed different Berryman cartoons (Jigsaw).  Students must identify on the analysis sheet how the cartoons are the same and how they are different.

Class Discussion

What were the cartoons we looked at and what did they all have in common?  Students will discover that each cartoon has a small teddy bear included in it.

The teacher will then project the image of "Drawing the Line in Mississippi."  Students will be asked to describe what they see in a whole class discussion format. What do they think is happening in this cartoon?  How does this make them feel about the character of Theodore Roosevelt?  Why would Americans like the way this cartoon shows their president?  What is a nickname for Theodore?  Teachers should be sure to clarify that although Roosevelt would not kill an old, infirm, and captured bear, he was not opposed to hunting and considered it a favorite pastime.

Finally, the teacher will ask, "from where do we get the teddy bear?"  Students should be able to answer that the teddy bear comes from this cartoon that shows Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear that has been tied.


Students will read the quotation,

"To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed."

Ask students to put this quotation into their own words.  What was an important issue for Theodore Roosevelt and why?


Students will write a short essay on the prompt:  Do you think the teddy bear should be named for Theodore Roosevelt?  Why or why not?

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments