Cuddly toys are essential in the construction of children and in their access to autonomy. They have a reassuring function and help them to face a changing and sometimes frightening world.
The very first cuddly toys were created at the end of the 19th century in Germany, but the emblematic teddy bear at the origin of their success hides a surprising history.
Back to the history of the teddy bear and its development during the twentieth century, you will see, it is a fascinating adventure, with an interesting parallel to be established with the evolution of society itself.
Who invented the teddy bear?
As incredible as it may seem, it seems that the teddy bear was invented at the same time in two very distant places and without consultation between the different creators.
The first teddy bear was German!
According to the Germans, the very first teddy bear was called Friend Petzy, born in the hands of Margarete Steiff, founder of the Steiff toy brand and world reference in plush toys.
This woman, suffering from paralysis due to poliomyelitis, took sewing classes against the advice of her parents in order to become independent. In 1877, she founded a felt business, which today corresponds to a sewing workshop. As a true visionary, she already recycled leftover fabrics to create her toys.
A magazine image as inspiration
Despite the severe handicap that forced her to use her machine only with her left side, Margarete was very successful with her business. In 1880, she designed cushions in the shape of an elephant, inspired by a picture she discovered in a magazine.
The children immediately embraced the project, so she continued her creations with other animals. The first Steiff catalog was printed in 1892 and by 1901, the brand was exported to the United States.
The birth of PB 55 bear after a visit to the zoo
The Steiff brand is a family business and Richard Steiff, Margarete's nephew, plays a central role in the history of the plush toy. After a visit to the zoo in Stuttgart, he returned with sketches and entrusted them to his aunt who made the first teddy bear, the prototype of which was codenamed PB 55 Bear. The success is immediate and in 1907 the production exceeds one million copies.
Oh no! The first teddy bear was American
In fact, the first bear is also American! Michel Pastoureau explains in his book "Bears: history of a fallen king" that at the same time, without any contact or exchange, the famous teddy bear was born on the other side of the Atlantic.
Tribute to a big-hearted president with the teddy bear
In these times, bears were hunted a lot, and when the hunt ended without a kill, the participants were offered a gruesome consolation prize. This is how President Theodore Roosevelt found himself faced with a defenseless bear cub to satisfy his hunting instinct. He refuses to kill it and Clifford Berryman drew a caricature of this moment which was published in the newspapers of the time.
The American teddy bear is born
Rose and Morris Michtom were inspired by this story to create a mohair bear with articulated limbs. Their company Ideal Novelty and Toy company will produce teddy bears and replicas of the prototype until 1984.
Marcel Pintel offers the first French teddy bear
Well known to collectors of antique toys, the Pintel brand was the first, in 1921, to propose teddy bears in its collection of stuffed and mechanical toys. Its main competitor, FADAP, followed in 1925, both brands being the main references for antique teddy bear lovers.
The Pintel teddy bear does not have a back hump like the German bear. Depending on the model, it has a sad smile or a severe look. In the 1970s, the same company produced the Colargol bear, the star of a TV show for young people.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, stuffed animals have been in constant evolution
First made from bits of used fabric, then from mohair, teddy bears came along through history. They have become the witnesses of successive eras, more or less happy, during which their manufacture says a lot about the evolution of lifestyles.
The teddy bears of the 1920s
In these years, glass eyes replace the traditional bootie buttons, giving the plushies a more lively appearance. Their deep black pupil is associated with a coloured iris and they gain in personality. In 1921, the miniature creator Schuco created a Yes/No model, capable of moving its head up and down and from left to right.
After 1930, teddy bears became more flexible and original
At the beginning, the manufacturers used straw to stuff the plushies, which gave them a rather rough aspect and touch. It was replaced by kapok, a natural material more flexible and more pleasant to handle.
The mohair being an easy material to dye, the plushies were adorned with colors with blue, red, green or purple models. The beige, brown and black and white ranges are still very present on the market.
Creative stuffed animals during the war years
During the sad period of the Second World War, the restrictions forced the manufacturers to innovate and to imagine the use of other materials. This is how sheep's wool, used blankets or cotton stuffing came into the creation process.
The 1950s and their innovations
These were the years in which the main changes in the manufacture of children's plush toys took place. Nylon made a remarkable entry into the toy world, making possible the creation of the first synthetic plush. Woven or knitted, it was combined with synthetic foam or latex stuffing. Glass eyes were replaced by black or coloured plastic elements.
Since 1970, safety has been at the heart of the manufacturing process
Today, all children's products are tested by specialised and independent laboratories to meet current safety standards. This implies that the eyes are solidly fixed, and flammable materials such as synthetic shavings are replaced by polyester padding.
The standards are drastic and aim to avoid that the child ingests a component (eye, bell, etc.), manages to open the plush (resistant seams) or risks burning themselves with a flammable material.
A soft toy to help children grow up
When the stuffed animal becomes a comforter, it is the sign that the child has completely adopted it. For them, it is a precious object that accompanies them in all their discoveries and with which they create a special bond, one of intimacy.
Only a teddy bear can comfort and reassure
When parents leave a child alone in their room, the teddy bear helps the young child to better experience this separation and gives them a sense of security. It allows them to experience solitude without anxiety. In fact, the teddy bear is a bridge between what the child knows (his parents, his environment, etc.) and the unknown (the changes in his daily life).
An important transitional object in the child's development
During the period when the child assimilates that they are a person of their own, that is to say between 12 and 18 months, the teddy plays a central role. Thanks to them, the child risks exploring new territories and tries out experiments under the loving eyes of their parents.
The delicate issue of washing the teddies
One of the things that reassures children but adults appreciate less, is their smell! Children are receptive to the different scents they are used to, such as that of their mother's milk, their parents, or even the washing powder used. It is similar for the cuddly toy, in which they associate smells that contribute to their emotional comfort.
Not all children are equally demanding when it comes to the hygiene of their soft toy. It is possible to get them used to washing their stuffed animal regularly at a very early age by offering them an identical stuffed animal to make the connection. If the children manage to switch from one to the other, then you will have earned the right to wash the teddy bear in the washing machine to bring it back to life as on the first day!
Children's favourite stuffed animals
From a very young age, children have their own tastes and decide for themselves which stuffed animal will accompany them in all their explorations and comfort them when they need it.
Cuddly toys are the kings of the children's rooms
Cats as plush toys seem to be a real hit with children and they come in a multitude of proposals. The chubby, realistic and very soft ones compete with the mischievous, the very cute or the Siamese and the lynx.
In the ideal world of stuffed animals, dogs, rabbits, tigers, turtles or dolphins rub shoulders with pandas, lions, flamingos and dinosaurs.
Discover our selection of plush animals here!
The imaginary characters
Unicorn plushies and other fantasy animals allow children to exercise their imaginations. This is also the case with adorable little monsters or funny associations like the flying pig. Some stuffed animals are the result of an unlikely meeting between several animals, such as the rabbit-fox, which was born in the mind of an original creator.
XXL teddy bears
They are gigantic for the small child, that's why they play a protective and reassuring role. What a joy to curl up between the soft paws of a giant bear or to rest your head gently on an XXL bear!
For children, it is particularly exhilarating to ride a giant dinosaur or to step over a giraffe plush to live, quite simple, a moment of happiness and complicity.