Steiff grew from a one-person seamstress business to become a pioneer of plush toys and maker of the highly collectable Teddy Bear.
Founded 1880 in Germany by Margarete Steiff (1847-1909).
As a young adult, Margarete worked as a seamstress and created plush animals to be used as pincushions. Her brother brought the pincushions to a local market and sold them to the community. Margarete’s first creation, the “Elefäntle”, sold over 5000 units.
As a child, Margarete had contracted polio and lost the use of both her legs, making it difficult for her to attend the market herself.
Making It Official
Steiff noticed children using her creations as toys and reoriented her attention towards her youngest customers.
Her early plush-toy designs expanded to include pigs, cats, and dogs.
Margarete officially established her burgeoning toy business in 1893. She hired seamstresses and home-based workers to help with production.
Richard Steiff (1877-1939) – Margarete’s nephew, design student, and pioneer of the Teddy Bear – joined his aunt to help expand her business in 1897.
Richard used his own sketches from the local zoo to help create new plush animals.
The Teddy Effect
Richard designed and produced a plush teddy bear with movable arms and legs that he took to the Leipzig Toy Fair in the spring of 1903.
A toy buyer from the United States – George Borgfeldt & Company – purchased Richard’s entire inventory of 100 bears and ordered an additional 3,000.
Steiff attended the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World Exposition) where they sold twelve thousand bears and won the Gold medal.
The bears were sold under the name “Teddy Bear”, named after U.S. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who famously refused to shoot a bear during a hunting trip in 1902.
In 1904, Steiff began adding a button in the ear of all its plush animals to attain distinction from counterfeit products and protect the brand.
In 1906 “Margarete Steiff GmbH” was founded. Steiff was recognized with the Grand Prix award at the World Exhibition in Brussels in 1910.
To meet demand for its products, the company evolved its manufacturing process to incorporate the production line in 1927.
The company continues to thrive today, producing stuffed animals and toys, children’s clothing, and cloth face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Steiff Club was founded in 1992 as an organization to bring Steiff fans together.
The first Steiff Gallery retail location opened in Hamburg, Germany in 1997.
The Steiff Museum opened in Giengen, Germany in 2005 to preserve the company’s history and creations.
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld collaborated with Steiff in 2008 to create a limited-edition plush toy in the likeness of his pet cat, Choupette.
Steiff received the Disney Heritage Award in 2018.
Early Steiff toys, particularly Teddy Bears, are highly sought after by collectors. The most coveted are the Teddy Bears sporting the small metal “Button in Ear” label embossed with an elephant.