In the (warm and fuzzy) world of teddy bear collecting, there’s one name that can never be forgotten: Steiff.
Credited with inventing the very first teddy bear, Steiff are legendary for their exquisite range of stuffed animals, children’s toys, and, of course, teddy bears. Their teddies have hugged their way into the hearts of people across the globe, and they remain incredibly popular to this day – the rarest sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds, with one even selling for millions!
But how did this little German company go from a single felt shop to the giant it is today? Well, that’s the story we’re about to tell. Keep reading to find out how Steiff went from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most beloved plush toy makers in the world!
How Steiff Got Its Start
In the late 1800s, a German seamstress named Margarete Steiff had a dream: starting a business of her own. Despite suffering from polio as a child and being confined to a wheelchair, she was determined to beat the odds and turn her dream into reality – something she achieved in 1880, with the establishment of the Steiff fabric company.
Margarete started out by making fabric pin cushions shaped like elephants. To her surprise, they turned out to be far more popular with children than they were seamstresses, as children loved to make up stories with them during playtime.
Margarete saw the magic in this and came up with an idea. She began creating stuffed animal toys designed especially for children – monkeys, rabbits, giraffes, and a menagerie of others. Each one became more popular than the last, and they began to vanish from her store shelves as quickly as they appeared.
Realising her path to success, Margarete opened a felt fabric factory in 1893 to bring more of her toy animals to life. Her creations quickly became adored not only in her hometown of Giengen, but across all of Germany.
Just two short years later, the first Steiff products to be sold outside of Germany found their way to the world-famous Harrods department store in London, England, marking the start of their global adventure.
The Birth of the Teddy Bear
In 1902, Richard Steiff, Margarete’s nephew and a talented designer in his own right, created the first teddy bear prototype with jointed limbs, a humpback, and a movable head. He showed off this bear design at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903 and it became an instant success, capturing the imaginations of children all over the world.
Not long after, American toy store owner Morris Michtom created his own bear, inspired by a political cartoon featuring then-President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The cartoon depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear cub while on a hunting trip. Michtom and his wife, Rose, created a stuffed bear cub and named it “Teddy’s Bear” in honour of the president. Michtom’s bear is why we call stuffed bears “teddy bears” to this day. (Ironically, Roosevelt himself hated the nickname!).
A Worldwide Phenomenon
Over the years, Steiff’s collection of stuffed toys grew and grew. From hundreds of different animal species to characters from literature and pop culture, they had something for every child (and adult!) to enjoy.
Despite their huge range, their teddy bears remained the all-time favourite. By 1907, the company had manufactured and supplied over 974,000 bears to countries around the globe!
Steiff also became known for their pioneering use of new materials. They were among the first to use mohair, a high-quality fabric made from the hair of Angora goats, for their plush animals, and the first to introduce safety eyes and joints in their designs.
Reaching the Bear-y Top
After Margarete passed away from pneumonia in 1909, Richard was determined to carry on his aunt’s legacy by expanding the toy line even further. In 1925, the Steiff company started using assembly line production to keep up with growing demand (something very few toy manufacturers had done before). Six years later, they formed a partnership with the Walt Disney company to create toys of beloved Disney characters.
As the 1960s rolled in, Steiff had established itself as the world’s biggest and most beloved manufacturer of stuffed toys, and they continue bringing joy to children everywhere to this day.
The Legacy of Steiff
Over 130 years since being founded, Steiff’s toys still have a special place in the hearts of children and collectors alike. There’s even a museum in Giengen where you can explore the history of the company and view a vast collection of Steiff products up close!
Steiff teddy bears have become synonymous with quality and tradition, which is why they’re so highly sought after by collectors. The most jaw-dropping example of this was the teddy bear Steiff made in collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2000. Decked out in Louis Vuitton’s trademark monogrammed coat, its fur has real gold and its eyes are made of gleaming diamonds and sapphires. It was purchased for nearly €2 million at a charity auction, making it the most expensive teddy bear ever sold!
Explore our Charming Range of Steiff Bears!
At Attico, we’ve long been in love with the charmingly soft fur, glassy eyes, and gentle faces of Steiff bears. That’s why we’re so proud to be official UK distributors of Steiff’s teddy bear and soft toy range!
Our collection features a wonderful array of bears, including a sweet-faced brown bear inspired by the very first teddy bear ever made, a feminine white bear released in honour of Margarete’s 175th birthday, and a funky fellow celebrating Elton John’s iconic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. Whether you’re a collector of premium toys or in search of a special gift for your little one, we’re sure you’ll find the perfect bear to bring joy to your life.
We’re currently offering 20% off selected Steiff bears while stocks last, so there’s never been a better time to add a cuddly new friend to your home. Explore our range of Steiff bears today!