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Steiff Stuffed Animals

History, Materials, and Workmanship

Steiff stuffed animals have been hand made since Margarete Steiff first began making soft toys in the late 1800's. One of her first Steiff toys was the elephant pincushion made of felt. Her relatives and friends so enjoyed the elephant, that she soon began making other animals including camels, monkeys, horses, donkeys, and pigs. Her brother Fritz took the toy animals to a country fair and sold every one.

Fame came to the Steiff company when Margarete's nephew Richard conceived of a small bear with movable head and joints. The bear was first shown in a Steiff catalog of 1903. It was that year that the publicity about President Theodore Roosevelt and his refusal to shoot a cub bear, made famous the term Teddy's bears. Other toy manufacturers of the time begain to produce teddy bears but it is the Steiff teddy bear that continues to set the standard for premium hand quality.

Margarete wanted her toys to be recognized for their quality and workmanship. In 1905 the famous button in the ear was added to every Steiff toy and stuffed animal.

The earliest Steiff toys were made of felt with felt scraps or wool fibers used as stuffing. Plush and velvet are also found in early catalogs but this is not the same as mohair plush which was introduced with the teddy bear of 1903. The earliest eyes were black shoe buttons. Glass eyes were used in the early dolls and plastic replaced the glass after World War II. Wheels were first made of metal, then wooden wheels and finally rubber-rimmed metal wheels.

Besides the Steiff stuffed animals, other toys were made through the years. Dolls are listed in the first catalogs. There were also novelty items such as egg warmers, rattles, hats, hand puppets, and purses shaped like animals. Wooden toys were made until 1971.

A tour of the Steiff factory in Giengen will find much the same attention to detail as Margarete envisioned over 100 years ago. Workers still apply finishing touches by hand, sewing on noses, airbrushing color details, and trimming the fur until the stuffed animal is just right.


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