Following our investigation the other week into who first invented the Teddy Bear, we thought that today we would pay tribute to that person: Richard Steiff. He was a German inventor and entrepreneur who just happened to be the nephew of toymaker Margarete Steiff. He was born in Giegen on the 7th February 1877 but moved to study Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart. During his studies, he would regularly visit the nearby Nill’scher Zoo and spend a great deal of time drawing pictures of the Bears.
These sketches would later be used as the basis for the Steiff Company’s first Bear, codenamed Steiff Bar 55 PB. Up until this time, toy Bears had always been fierce and scary to children but Richard wanted to change all this. Through his passion for real Bears, he made it his mission to create a soft toy Bear that would win the hearts of children.
At the end of the nineteenth century, he designed a number of Bears on wheels that could either be ridden or pulled along by children. He also produced Bears that stood on their hind legs.
Through all these prototypes, his object was to give the toy bears life-life movement but he could not achieve this goal. Then, in 1902, he invented a string-joint, which meant the toy’s joints could move just like a real Bear. This was the Steiff Bar 55 PB, the name stems from 55 = the bear’s height in centimetres; P = Plush; and B = moveable limbs).
In 1903, Richard also planned and erected in Giegen a factory building of concrete and steel called the Virgins’ Aquarium, which allowed all the workers inside to enjoy ample natural light, a first for its time. He equipped the building with a ramp so that his disabled aunt could reach the upper levels of the factory in her wheelchair.
Despite the phenomenal success, however, Richard was not entirely satisfied with his jointed bear and continued to experiment and develop. His aim was to improve this design and in 1905, he achieved this by replacing the Bear’s string joints with disc joints. This inspired method has remained in use to the present day, 100 years after its invention. This ‘perfected’ Bear met with unparalleled success, requiring Steiff to produce 974,000 of them in 1907 alone.
Margarete Steiff died just two years later but her company continued to flourish in the capable hands of Richard and her other nephews. Their combined vision and business acumen enabled the company to grow and to weather the worst that the troubled 20th century had to offer.
Richard Steiff died on the 30th March 1939 at the age of 62, in Jackson, Michigan, USA.
For everything he did to popularise the Teddy Bear, we have decided that it is about time we made Richard Steiff an official Hero of The Bears.