Soft toys for children have been used for a very long time, perhaps starting with ragdolls made from scraps of worn or leftover fabric. But the popularization of stuffed animals can be credited to a disabled woman named Margarete Steiff.
As a baby, Margarete contracted polio, which left her legs paralyzed and produced profound muscle weakness in her right arm. As an adult, she went on to go to sewing school, where she was frustrated by the challenges presented by her disability. Nevertheless, she completed her training as a seamstress at age 17, and worked with her sisters as a tailor.
She saved her money and used those savings to purchase a sewing machine, the first such machine in her town of Gien, Germany. The sewing machine compensated for the weakness in her arm, and allowed her to pursue her craft.
She discovered felt, a textile brought to Europe from east Asia, and thought the soft, warm fabric would be perfect for children’s toys. She initially made stuffed animals, including elephants, mice, and rabbits, as gifts for close friends and relatives, but in the 1890s, she started selling them to the public in her own shop. By 1889, the company moved into a larger building to support the high demand for these toys. In 1902, the Steiff Company started producing what would become the first teddy bears. Margarete’s nephew, Richard Steiff, took the bears to a spring fair in Leipzig, where an American buyer ordered a lot of 3,000 bears, and they became very popular in the US. By 1906, they were named after Theodore Roosevelt, becoming teddy bears.
Margarete Steiff was famous for her dedication to high quality in the production of her stuffed animals, and was often quoted as saying “the best is just good enough for our children.” From creating the prototypes herself to prevent technical problems in manufacturing to sourcing the highest quality materials, she ensured that her children’s toys were as good as they could be.
The Steiff Company is still making toys today, and they are recognized for their high quality.
The stuffed animal was softer and cuter than the old ragdolls, and less fragile and more cuddly than the porcelain dolls that were a popular children’s toy at the time.
Shortly after the Steiff Bear was created, a stuffed rabbit designed after Peter Rabbit from the Beatrix Potter books became the first stuffed animal to be patented.
Sock monkeys, a toy usually handmade out of socks, appeared during the Great Depression, providing stuffed toys to children who otherwise may not have had access to them.
We think that this history is so valuable because our present echoes so much about these beginnings. Bunnies by the Bay was created by women who had experienced great tragedy. Our plush toys found their beginnings in hand-crafted personal creations given as gifts to bring joy. We are dedicated to creating the highest quality soft toys for children that we can. Finally, our founders are women fighting for and finding success as entrepreneurs in a business environment dominated by men.
Not to mention that some of the earliest stuffed animals in commercial production were bunnies and rabbits.
So, in a way, we find our roots in that history. From a disabled woman in 19th century Germany, from the company that she founded and grew and that still produces stuffed animals today, Bunnies by the Bay builds on that historical foundation and brings some of the finest toys to your children.
I enjoyed reading the history of the Steiff bear.