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That patriarch of the Steiff company, Margarete Steiff, was born in 1847 in the small town of Giengen, Germany. Sadly, Margarete contracted polio and was confined to a wheelchair through polio from the age of 2 although she was able to attend school. While at school, she took classes in sewing and needlework and saved her money to be able to buy a sewing machine, the first one the townspeople of Giengen had ever seen. Margarete began making dresses for her family and friends out of high quality felt material commencing in about 1877, using her sewing talents to make a good living as the owner of her own dressmaking business. In 1880, the first Steiff animal was created, a felt elephant that was produced and sold as a pincushion. Even among all the toy makers of the day, this elephant is generally recognized by experts as the first fabric toy animal stuffed with a soft interior material. Over the next 5 years, Steiff continued to produce elephants and also added more stuffed animals to the line including a poodle and a donkey. As the business grew, Fritz Steiff, Margarete's brother, became the Steiff sales manager and produced the first Steiff catalogue in 1892 that gave customers pictures and descriptions of the full range of soft filled stuffed felt animals that were being produced by this time. While the catalogue was quite successful, Steiff felt animals began to be exposed to a much broader and more global clientele at trade shows such as the Spring Fair in Leipzig which they first attended in 1893. Now ready to expand beyond Germany, Steiff developed business contacts with the famous London department store Harrods in 1895. Developing as a family business, Margarete's nephew Richard Steiff joined the company in 1897 after having attended art school in Stuttgart, Germany. Richard made many hundreds of drawings of animals and designs for sewn but "jointed" animals, artwork that went well beyond the range of stuffed animals then being produced by Steiff and giving rise to the most famous of Steiff animals- the first Steiff bear that was produced in 1902.

This first Steiff bear was made of mohair plush rather than felt, the first such use of the material in a children's toys. Starting a trend followed by Steiff from that point onward in this history, this first original Steiff bear was marked 55PB (55 cm tall, Plush, and Beweglich (German for jointed). Sold for the first time at the Leipzig Spring Fair, the Steiff bear was introduced at the same time that famous American artist Clifford Berryman's 1902 caricature of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt with a young bear was published in the Washington Post newspaper. Roosevelt, nicknamed "Teddy" and a passionate bear hunter, was as we all know now the ispiration of the name "Teddy Bear", and the mohair Steiff plush and jointed 55PB bear came along at the perfect time to capitalize on the "Teddy" Roosevelt publicity and the public fascination with his bear hunting. In fact, all of Berryman's future caricatures of the President included a decorative little bear in the drawing. By 1903, more than 3000 Steiff "teddy bears" were being sold around the world. In 1904, Richard Steiff traveled to America and went to the World's Fair in St. Louis to show their Steiff bears and other plush animals, and he returned to Germany with substantial orders as well as gold medals from the Fair and a prestigious Grand Prix Award. Perhaps even more significant than the production of the first plush mohair bear, Margarete's newphew Franz Steiff, the company's chief technician, created the famous "button in ear" Steiff trademark in 1904. From that point and to present day, every Steiff plush animal has a metal button embossed with an elephant (a symbol of the company's first plush animal) attached to the ear. The button as well as the term "Button in Ear" was registered as a company trademark in December, 1904 and patented in May, 1905. A fabric tag with the model number on it was also added to the animal ears in 1908, and the combination of the button and the tag remains a mark of Steiff quality and a means by which Steiff bears and animals can be identified and dated. The Margarete Steiff GmbH company remains in business today and continues to produce primarily hand stitched and individually produced bears and other plush animals- now around 1.5 million animals each year in the German community of Giengen/Brenz and still loved by children as well as collectors.

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