Posts Tagged ‘Teddy Roosevelt’

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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Taken by Alexander Gardner on February 9, 1864. This photograph would serve as the image that engraver Victor David Brenner would use to create the bas relief of Lincoln used on the penny.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)Taken by Alexander Gardner on February 9, 1864, this photograph served as the image engraver Victor David Brenner would use to create the bas relief of Lincoln found on the 1909 penny.

It is President Teddy Roosevelt we have to thank for giving us the first Lincoln penny. Until the Lincoln penny debuted in 1909, no likeness of an actual person had appeared on a “regular-denomination circulating United States coin.” Too monarchial, deemed our first head of state, George Washington. Emperors, kings, and other authority figures had long stamped coins with their images to declare their power. Young America was done with that kind of governing. So the Mint Act of 1792 dictated that American coins would instead be “an impression emblematic of liberty.”

As a result, the coin designs of liberty – depicted by goddesses, mainly- grew “dowdy and uninspired.” President Roosevelt complained to his secretary of the treasury that, “Our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness.” So Roosevelt directed him to stamp the image of Lincoln on the one-cent piece to commemorate Lincoln’s 100th birthday.

It was done. When the Lincoln penny was released into circulation, it was a hit with the American people. Long lines formed at banks and Treasury buildings in New York, Washington, Boston, and other cities to snap up the new coins. In Philadelphia, some of the pennies were sold for 25 cents. It had been 44 years since Lincoln was assassinated. He was an icon. People were excited that they recognized the face on the coin.

Of course, as Lincoln himself remarked, you can’t please all the people all the time. Some people grumbled about the new coin, Confederate veterans, of course, plus the New York Times, calling it “another ill-considered freak of Mr. Roosevelt’s will.”

Nowadays, the complaints about the penny are different. There are some people who want to get rid of the penny altogether. Due to the rising price of metal, the cost of making the “copper-coated zinc corpus” (1.4 cents) now exceeds its face value.

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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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Lucille Mulhall (1885-1940)

Lucille Mulhall (1885-1940)

Lucille Mulhall was an authentic cowgirl who found fame in both wild west shows and the rodeo circuit. She interests me for several reasons. For one, humorist Will Rogers began his career as a cowboy on her father Zack Mulhall’s Oklahoma ranch, later joining Mulhall’s wild west show, billed as the “Cherokee Kid.”

It was Will Rogers who claimed that the term “cowgirl” was first coined (circa 1900) to describe Lucille Mulhall and her ranch skills. Lucille is famous for many reasons, largely because she could rope and ride like none other. She could rope eight men riding abreast (1). She was the most famous cowgirl of her time, catching both Teddy Roosevelt’s eye (who invited her to the White House) and Geronimo’s (who gave her a beaded vest and a decorated bow).

But I started researching Lucille Mulhall largely because of a reference in many sources to her uncanny ability as a horse trainer. She could train horses to do things others couldn’t. Of her unique ability, Lucille Mulhall said,

My system of training consists of three things – patience, perseverence, and gentleness. Gentleness I consider one of the greatest factors in successful training….Governor, the horse I ride in our exhibitions,…has nearly forty tricks….He can shoot a gun; pull off a man’s coat and put it on again; can roll a barrel; can walk up stairs and down again – a difficult feat; is perfect in the march and the Spanish trot; extends the forelegs so that an easy mount may be made; kneels, lies down and sits up; indeed, he…does nearly everything but talk.

I’d love to have seen Governor’s tricks, especially the one when he pulls off a man’s coat. But what is unclear is whether or not Governor is pulling the coat off his own body or some man’s!

(1) Alter, Judy. Wild West Shows: Rough Riders and Sure Shots Watts: New York, 1997.

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