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Archive for the ‘Teddy Bears’ Category

Christopher Robin with Winnie-the-Pooh illustration by E.H. Shepard

Christopher Robin with Winnie-the-Pooh illustration by E.H. Shepard

Reuters new service released this announcement on 01/09/09:

“The first official sequel to the original Winnie-the-Pooh books will appear in October, its publishers said on Saturday, more than 80 years after the honey-loving bear first appeared in print.”Return to the Hundred Acre Wood” is the follow up to A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House At Pooh Corner,” which were famously illustrated by E.H. Shepard.

The new book, published by Egmont Publishing in Britain and Penguin imprint Dutton Children’s Books in the United States, will be written by David Benedictus, [and] Mark Burgess, who has already drawn classic children’s characters including Paddington Bear and Winnie-the-Pooh, is to provide the illustrations.”

This new Pooh illustrator Mark Burgess has illustrated several children’s picture books and many of teddy bears, but my limited Internet search has not turned up any of Winnie-the-Pooh. Following the classic work of original Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard will be a tall order for Burgess. According to The Star Phoenix on January 14, 2009, a collection of Shepard’s drawings for the original Pooh books sold for almost $2 million in London last month.

E.H. Shepard is also famous as the original illustrator of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Like Christopher Robin Milne, Shepard came to resent Winnie-the-Pooh, feeling that his illustrations for the Milne books overshadowed his other work.

The Wind in the Willows illustration by E.H. Shepard

The Wind in the Willows illustration by E.H. Shepard

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winniethepooh-bookThis is the story of how A.A. Milne came to write the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, or just plain Winnie the Pooh, as Disney would have it.

It was the beginning of World War I. A Canadian lieutenant, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian in Winnipeg,  offered his services to his country. He was already a trained officer attached to the 34th Regiment of Cavalry, and received orders to leave with the regiment on a train for Valcartier, Quebec, and then take a ship to England. While en route to Valcartier, he was detached from the 34th Regiment and transferred to  the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps.

On August 24, 1914, the train stopped at White River, Ontario, an important stop for all trains. Here they would take on coal and water as well as clean out the cinders. The trains carried men and horses, as horses were vital in the war effort. During the four-to-six hour stop, the horses would get off the train to be watered and exercised. Troops would drill along Winnipeg Street where the train station was located.

It was on the train platform that Lieutenant Colebourn noticed a man with a female black bear cub on a leash. It was not an uncommon sight for the times; several people had pet bears back then. Many old photos show bears leashed and posing with family members. Lieutenant Colebourn talked to the man and found out he was a trapper. The trapper told the lieutenant that he had killed the cub’s mother. The lieutenant, being a vet, knew that the cub had little chance now of surviving in the wild without its mother. So he paid the trapper $20 for the cub and took it back with him to the train. He named his new companion, “Winnie,” after his hometown of Winnipeg.

From Gaspe Bay, he and Winnie embarked for England aboard the S.S. Manitou with the rest of the troops, where they headed to a military encampment in Southern England on the Salisbury Plain (home to Stonehenge).

Lt. Harry Colebourn and Winnie

Lt. Harry Colebourn and Winnie.

Winnie became the mascot of the C.A.V.C. while the company remained in England. She became a pet to many of the soldiers, following them around like a tame dog. She slept under Harry’s cot in his tent. Sometimes she would climb the center pole of the tent in the night and give it a shake. But, as Winnie grew older and bigger, the men began to worry that the shaking would make the tent collapse in the night with them in it. From then on, they slept with Winnie tethered to a pole outside the tent.

But it was wartime. Soon the brigade was ordered to France. Harry, now a captain, could not take Winnie with him to the battlefront. On December the ninth of that same fall, Harry took Winnie to the London Zoo. It was his full intention to return for her after the war and return with her to Canada. Harry was very faithful to Winnie. When on leave from war duty, he made trips to London to visit Winnie in the zoo.

Winnie continued to capture the hearts of all those who met her. She became a very popular attraction at the London Zoo.  It was said that people would knock on her cage door and she would open it and come out. She would allow children to ride on her back and she would eat from their hands. Her attendants considered her trustworthy. No other bears were allowed such contact with the visitors to the zoo.

The war ended in 1918 but Harry didn’t take Winnie out of the London Zoo. Instead he donated her as a gesture of appreciation to the zoo for caring for Winnie through the war years and he returned to Winnipeg alone. Living in London at that time was author A.A. Milne. 

Christopher Robin Milne and Winnie at the London Zoo c.1924
Christopher Robin Milne and Winnie at the London Zoo c. 1924

On August 21, 1921, Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, or “Billy Moon,” as he later referred to himself, had his first birthday. Milne gave him an Alpha Farnell stuffed teddy bear which came to be known as “Edward.”  From 1924 on, Milne and his son began to visit Winnie the bear in the London Zoo. Christopher Robin became very attached to Winnie. He was even allowed inside the cage to feed Winnie condensed milk. Soon Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear underwent a name change. Although a boy, “Edward” soon became known as Winnie.

Inspired by both the zoo bear Winnie and his son’s stuffed bear of the same name, author Milne began to write and publish his Pooh’s Classics. In 1926 the first and best know of the series called Winnie-the-Pooh, was published, the additional name “Pooh,” being borrowed from the name of a swan. Milne’s characters are mostly inspired by Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals, among them Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. These toys are now on display at the New York Public Library.

At first, Christopher Robin enjoyed the fame his father’s books brought him, but, as he grew older, he became resentful. He felt his father was exploiting his childhood for personal gain.

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11/16/1902 Washington Post cartoon by Clifford Berryman, "Drawing the Line in Mississippi"

11/16/1902 Washington Post cartoon by Clifford Berryman, "Drawing the Line in Mississippi"

Everyone knows that the teddy bear is named after the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, but they may not know why.

It happened in November of 1902. Teddy Roosevelt was on a bear-hunting trip through Louisiana and Mississippi. It was an “exasperating” hunt, said Roosevelt, and after five days, he never got a shot. Out of pity, his companions corraled and roped a bear for his prey. But Roosevelt refused to kill a defenseless animal. The press printed the story and the public applauded their president’s restraint. But the story really caught fire when a political cartoon appeared on the front page of the Washington Post two days later, with cartoonist Clifford Berryman portraying Roosevelt as “turning away with disgust, with sloped rifle,” from a “very black bear being roped around the neck by a very white catcher.” (1)

Berryman was commenting on Roosevelt’s race relations. Roosevelt thought that “negroes” as a group were far inferior to whites. He, however, also believed that individual blacks could rise to social heights. In 1901, he became the first president to invite a black man to the White House when he sat down to dinner with African-American educator Booker T. Washington.

Anyway, whether or not the readers of the Post picked up on Berryman’s allegory is not what we remember today. What is recalled is that the cartoon sparked a full-scale teddy bear craze. (2) The public fell in love with the cartoon bear. People wrote and begged Berryman to draw more “bear cartoons,” which he did. In subsequent cartoons, he made the bear rounder, smaller, and cuter, and thus all the more endearing with its prickly pear ears,  imploring eyes, and scraggly fur.

Skip to a candy and toy shop in Brooklyn. Shop owner  Morris Michtom had seen Berryman’s cartoon. He asked his wife Rose to create a stuffed bear like the one in the cartoon.

That night, Rose cut and stuffed a piece of plush velvet into the shape of a bear, sewed on shoe button eyes and handed it to Morris to display in the shop window. He labeled it, “Teddy’s bear.” (3)

To Michtom’s surprise, not just one but a dozen customers wanted to buy the bears. Michtom received Roosevelt’s permission to use his name on his product and began the mass production of the cuddly toy bears which sold for $1.50.

Oregon family c.1900 with prized family teddy bear

Oregon family c.1900 with prized family teddy bear

Today the teddy bear craze is still going strong and we think of teddy bears as being toys for children. But, back at the beginning, women bought the teddy bears for themselves, made them clothes they read about in Ladies’ Home Journal, and carried them with them everywhere.

(1) Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House: New York, 2001.
(2) History.com: http://www.history.com/home.do
(3) Jewish Virtual Library: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

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