Steiff bears have long been crowned as a pioneer in the toy industry and as one of if not the best in the world. They have come a really long way and are brimming with so much history that they can be considered an heirloom and treasure of sorts to. Collections of these abound all over the world which no longer comes as a surprise.
But have you ever wondered how these toys came to be? Who were the people behind the brand? Let’s all find out with this little trip down memory lane.
APPOLONIA MARGARETE STEIFF
The founder of the company, Margarete, as what her peers would often refer to her, was born on the 24th of July in 1847 to parents Friedrich and Maria in Giengen, Germany. She was the third in four children with two older sisters and a younger brother.
At the age of one and a half, Margarete was found to have polio lending her feet paralyzed and confining her into a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Nonetheless, she grew up to be a happy and positive child.
Always trying to overcome her limitations and do what her heart desires, Margarete wished to attend a sewing school. Her father Friedrich objected at first, not wanting to cause her any frustrations, but eventually agreed in the end. Margarete proved herself and by age of 17 became a very skilled seamstress. In 1874, her father converted one of the house’s rooms into a dressmaker’s workshop.
Margarete needed help from her sisters, Marie and Pauilne to run the shop. They were in fact the first people in their two to buy a sewing machine. Word got out and soon the girls became quite popular.
In 1880, she saw an elephant out of a magazine and fashioned a pin cushion made of felt out of it. She sold eight of these. However, they were played with instead of dotted with pins as children found them to be quite charming. People then began asking more of it and soon Margarete was sewing plush toys. From here the brand was born.
In 1897, Richard, Margarete’s nephew, entered the company. He was a graduate of applied arts whose animal sketches were the basis of many of Steiff’s toys. He was said to have a certain fondness for bears that in 1902, he designed the “Bear 55PB”, the very first teddy bears the world has ever laid eyes on.
Although initially hesitant, Margarete allowed Richard to present the Steiff bears at the Leipzig toy trade fair where an American businessman saw them and ordered 3,000 pieces, all of which he brought to the United Stated where it had received massive success.