Century of American AD-BEAR-TISING

By Natalie Hartman Whitnack




"The Bear Made Me Buy It," confesses Joyce Gerardi Rinehart in her book of the same title. Whether it's being lured by their endearing faces, or intrigued by a compelling “Hugs for Sale” advertisement, most readers have been mesmerized to buy "one more bear."


Unofficially a Clifford Berryman 1902 political cartoon started the mass promotion that propelled the teddy bear into a national obsession. However, historian and author, Patricia N. Schoonmaker in A Collector's History of the Teddy Bear concludes, "The success of the teddy bear was not so much due to President Roosevelt, but to the uniqueness of the toy attributed to soft and silky mohair and fully, jointed appendages."

From 1902 until 1906, the success of the teddy bear was mainly promoted by word of mouth or through further Berryman cartoons where the itty bitty bruin had become his trademark. The American demand for teddy bears exploded into the “bear craze” with the advent of ad-bear-tising in 1906.



Teddy Bear Ad


This is Bruin’s Day –The first known advertisement for jointed plush bears in a national American Magazine – April 1906. [Courtesy of Playthings Magazine/Linda Mullins]


Linda Mullins, internationally renowned historian and author reports in her book, American Teddy Bear Encyclopedia, “Playthings magazine (April, 1906) published the first known national advertisement for American teddy bears.”  Baker and Bigler Co. (New York) presented an ad, picturing a jointed teddy bear.  The headline read “This is Bruin's Day.”


Teddy Bear Ad

Teddy’s Bears Ad – E. I. Horsman advertisement ran in Playthings Magazine, September 1906 issue. The first time plush bears were called Teddy’s Bears. Courtesy of Playthings Magazine/Linda Mullins



Soon other magazines began to carry teddy bear ads.  Mullins noted: "Many of the American manufacturers would state that the quality of their bears were equal to the imported, referring to their German counterparts." Comparison advertising was alive and well.

Schoonmaker and Mullins books display an array of ad-bear-tisements during the years 1906-1908.  The ads promoted talking, growling, sleeping, tumbling, Teddy Bear Admechanical, performing, buttons in the ear, harmless play fellows and bears on wheels for purchase.

The Miller MFG. Co. marketed an "Antiseptic Bear” which insured that the bear was of the utmost cleanliness and "carefully inspected" prior to shipping.

Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward catalogues were big into bears. An ad in Montgomery Ward's catalogue displayed an "Electro Teddy Bear” that had electric bullets for eyes that shine, sparkle or grow as dim as you want them too." I wonder if the children might have found these bruins to be "beary scary".


Teddy Bear Ad

Welcome Home Soldier!  The company celebrates the end of the World War II (1945) and looks forward to resuming its post war program. [Courtesy of GUND]


Author-journalist, Marty Crisp's Teddy Bears in Advertising Art is an excellent resource as to how teddy bears have been utilized in promoting other products. Crisp states that “Teddy bears in all of their glory are allies and champions, promoters of traits that people all over the world respect.” Thumbing through the pages of Crisp’s book you will find a variety of sales-bears for aluminum products, batteries, blankets, blue jeans, cameras and film, cheese, cigars, computers, corsets, diapers, disinfectant, furs, gloves, hair care products, medicine, motor oil, pianos, railroads, records, restaurants, sand paper, shoe polish, sports clothes, tailors thread, tools, toothpaste, underwear, vacuum cleaners, varnish and video stores."


Teddy Bear Ad


Ad in The Ladies Home Journal, 1907


Author Richard Reed further describes and displays advertising bears in his book, Bears and Dolls in Advertising. Fast food bears, candy cubs, sports bears, they are all there in bright photos and trivia packed chapters. The A & W Root Beer Bear, Coca Cola Polar Bear, Snuggle Bear, Hershey's Chocolate-colored Bear, Harley-Davidson's Motorhead are but a few of the collectible cuties.

In Linda Mullins’ American Teddy Bear Encyclopedia, she states, “In the long run, some of the strongest bear advertising campaigns included food and beverage products; polar bears would quickly bring up the thought of refreshing, cooled delights, while cuddly teddy bears were a sure fire visual image of sweet.

Why do advertisers anthropomorphize teddy bears and other plush playthings as Spokes-toys and do they really help to sell the product?


  1. Unlike celebrities, they do not incur huge salaries, are not likely to be embroiled in a nasty public scandal and do not require replacements when one quits or passes on.
  2. It revolves around the cute factor and positive childhood memories of a furry friends playthings being our confidents, dependable,  trustworthy and having the ability to make us feel good.
  3. Though babies fall into the cute factor, they require time-outs, thus increasing costs for photo shots.
  4. Plush toys cross over gender and social demographics, thus reaching a greater audience.
  5. There is a carry over value as when one seeks the Snuggles bear they think of the product, or Smokey Bear, the message.


Undoubtedly, as long as there is advertising there will be employment opportunities for plush stuff. Bears are prolific in advertising around the world.  Germany was advertising toy bears prior to America's 1906 advertisement.  The Gebruder Sussenguth toy company displayed a stuffed bear toy in an 1894 catalogue and an 1897 Steiff catalogue showcased Bear Skittles and "Roly-poly" toy bears. A most informative German website, “Teddies World”, has an outstanding display of international teddy bear ads.  The creator of the website, Heinz Kraemer, has taken the collection and preservation of teddy bear advertising into cyberspace.


When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention campaign, while joining with the Wartime Advertising Council, they sought out a representative symbol.  Perhaps, they could have developed an ad like the one in Marty Crisp's introduction in her book... Do you think "Smokey Bear", perhaps the world's best known "spokes-bear" might have applied?  Smokey was created in 1942. In the 1950's, the Ideal Toy Company produced the original plush bear with his familiar ranger hat, belt and badge. In later years, R. Daken and Co. and the Knickerbocker Co. further immortalized the famed ad-bear-tising bruin.


In 2006, Smokey Bear celebrated his 64th birthday. No retirement for Smokey, as he continues to remind each generation that "Only you can prevent forest fires". Smokey Bear has generated countless numbers of advertising products promoting, "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire". Where there is a need for fire education and prevention...there's Smokey Bear.

Maxine Clark, award-winning retail veteran and founder/CEO of the global conglomerate Build-A-Bear Workshop®, and John Sortino, entrepreneur extraordinaire and founder of  The Vermont Teddy Bear Company have written "how to" books which share their secrets of success.  They have each included tips for successful advertising. Readers who are involved in ad-bear-tising their products might wish to purchase a copy of Maxine Clark's The Bear Necessities of Business...Building a Company with Heart and John Sortino’s The Complete Idiot's Guide to...."Being a Successful Entrepreneur. These how-to books are rich resources written by two time-tested, proven-successful business entrepreneurs.

As teddy bear aficionados commemorate “A Century of American Ad-bear-tising”, we have much appreciation for the authors mentioned in this article. A round of a-paws for Joyce Gerardi Rinehart, Patricia N. Schoonmaker, Linda Mullins, Marti Crisp and Richard Reed. They deserve appreciation for preserving an important element in teddy bear history, ad-bear-tising. As one reviews the advertisements on the pages of the books, it is a historical walk through 100 years of teddy bear manufacturers and designs.

We should also thank the successful business entrepreneurs, Maxine Clark and John Sortino, who share their business savvy so that many more successful ads will have future bear buyers saying...The Bear Made Me Buy It.


About the Author:
Natalie Hartman Whitnack is a self-diagnosed and family supported, arctophyle (bear lover). Having received her first bear, a panda named Mickey, at the imaginative age of seven; she continues her life as a fancier of the power and mystic of the delightful plush bruins. She is author of Beyond a Hug: The Healing Power of Teddy Bears. More information about Natalie and her bears can be found at the "Teddy Bear Power"web site.