Archive for the ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ Category

Teddy Roosevelt

In the spring of 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt embarked on his much-delayed and much-anticipated rail tour of the American West. He was to travel 14,000 miles over 8 weeks, visiting 25 states and an estimated 150 towns and cities, where he would make over 200 speeches. His “Western trek,” as he called it, included stops at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. He couldn’t wait to get away from the stress of politics in Washington.

On May 3, Teddy attended a church service in the cowtown of Sharon Springs, Kansas. Teddy recounted that day to reporters:

“There were two very nice little girls standing in the aisle beside me. I invited them in and we all three sang out of the same hymn book. They were in their Sunday best and their brown sunburned little arms and faces had been scrubbed till they almost shone.

…When church was over, I shook hands with the three preachers and all the congregation, whose buggies, ranch wagons, and dispirited-looking saddle ponies were tied to everything available in the village. I got a ride myself in the afternoon, and on returning, found that all the population that had not left had gathered solemnly around the train.”

The townspeople of Sharon Springs had never seen anything like Teddy’s train. Six “gleaming private cars” made up the length of it. “First, a baggage car; then the Atlantic, a club car heavy with wood and leather, plus a fully-equipped barbershop; then the Gilsey diner, stocked with champagne and cigars; then the Senegal, a big Pullman carrying reporters, photographers, telegraphers, and Secret Service men; then the Texas, a compartmental sleeper for White House staff, and any guests Roosevelt might ask to ride along.

“Last came the President’s own Elysian, seventy feet of solid mahogany, velvet plush, and sinkingly-deep furniture. It had two sleeping chambers with brass bedsteads, two tiled bathrooms, a private kitchen run by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s star chef, a dining room, a stateroom, with picture windows, and an airy rear platform for whistle-stop speeches.” (1)

Back to Teddy’s recollection:

Among the [crowd gathered on the train platform] was a little girl who asked me if I would like a baby badger which she said her brother Josiah had just caught. I said I would, and an hour or two later, the badger turned up from the little girl’s father’s ranch…The little girl had several other little girls with her, all in clean starched Sunday clothes and ribbon-tied pigtails. One of them was the sheriff’s daughter, and I saw her nudging the sheriff, trying to make some request, which he refused. So I asked what it was and I found that the seven little girls were exceedingly anxious to see the inside of my [train] car, and accordingly I took them all in. The interior arrangements struck them as being literally palatial….”


Teddy Roosevelt's one-legged rooster

Teddy Roosevelt's one-legged rooster

Teddy gave the little girls flowers and a silver-and-gold medal he had been presented in Chicago. (1) He  named the two-week old badger Josiah – “Josh” for short – and installed the animal on the well-ventilated front platform of the Elysian. As the presidential train continued westward, Teddy would hand-feed the badger cut-up potatoes and milk. At train stops, he would show his new prize to schoolchildren, and point out the white stripe that ran down his back. As the journey continued, Josh was joined by two bears, a lizard, a horned toad, and a horse. (1)

When the president returned to the White House, Josh was added to the family’s assortment of pets. But he soon began to hiss like a teakettle and nip at guests’ ankles, so he was donated to the Bronx Zoo.


(1) Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001.

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800px-TheodoreRooseveltFamily Ike Hoover served in the White House for over forty-two years, ultimately becoming Chief Usher in charge of the day-to-day operations of the presidential mansion. His memoirs, published in 1934, provide insight into the White House of Theodore Roosevelt:

“After the McKinley funeral [September 1901], Mr. Roosevelt himself did not appear for several days, but in the meantime Mrs. Roosevelt and her son Teddy arrived. After looking the place over they sent word to the others to join them, and in less than a week all the family were living in their new quarters. Then began the wildest scramble in the history of the White House. The children, hearty and full of spirits, immediately proceeded to cut loose.

The life of the employees who took their responsibilities too seriously was made miserable. The children left no nook or corner unexplored. From the basement to the flagpole on the roof, every channel and cubbyhole was thoroughly investigated.

Places that had not seen a human being for years were now made alive with the howls and laughter of these newcomers. The house became one general playground for them and their associates. Nothing was too sacred to be used for their amusement, and no place too good for a playroom. The children seemed to be encouraged in these ideas by their elders, and it was a brave man indeed who dare say no or suggest putting a stop to these escapades.

One of the favorite stunts of the children was to crawl through the space between ceilings and floors where no living being but rats and ferrets had been for years. They took delight also in roller-skating and bicycle-riding all over the house, especially on the smooth hardwood floors. Practically every member of the family, with the exception of the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, had a pair of wooden stilts, and no stairs were too well carpeted or too steep for their climbing, no tree too high to scramble to the top, no fountain too deep to take a dip, no furniture too good or too high to use for leapfrog and horseplay, no bed was too expensive or chair too elegantly upholstered to be used as a resting place for the various pets in the household.

Algonquin the Pony, ridden by Archie Roosevelt

Algonquin the Pony, ridden by Archie Roosevelt

Giving the pony a ride in the elevator was but one of many stunts. This little fellow, spotted and handsome, had free access to any of the children’s bedrooms. By means of the elevator he would be conveyed to the bedroom floor from the basement, a distance of two complete floors.

…Every member of the family was an expert rider, and the President never seemed so happy as when either Mrs. Roosevelt or one of the children accompanied him on his ride.

Next perhaps might be mentioned his lawn tennis games. It was great sport for him to figure just whom he preferred to play with in the afternoon. Of course none dared refuse the invitation, but it was well known that a poor player was never invited a second time.

…All returned just about in time for lunch. Those famous lunches! Something indeed was wrong when there were not two or more guests for this meal. To prepare properly for a certain number was almost a physical impossibility, for notice was continually coming from the office that someone had been invited at the last minute, and many times the family and guests had to wait until the table was made larger before they could be seated. The place was really a transient boardinghouse, and how every one got enough to eat was the wonder of the household. Lunch being over, the rest of the afternoon was given over to sport – “exercise” as the President used to call it.

…It was more to the liking of the family to spend a quiet evening in the library, either playing cards or reading the current magazines. The whole family were friends when it came to reading. No newspapers. Never a moment was allowed to go to waste; from the oldest to the youngest they always had a book or a magazine before them. The President, in particular, would just devour a book, and it was no uncommon thing for him to go entirely through three or four volumes in the course of an evening. Like-wise we frequently saw one of the children stretched out on the floor flat on his stomach eating a piece of candy and with his face buried deep in a book. The current magazines were entirely too slow coming out, and we were kept busy trying to get them for the different members of the family the moment they appeared.

Hoover, Irwin Hood. Forty-two Years in the White House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934.
Seale, William, The President’s House, vol II. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986.

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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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