Small Talk Tag: Steiff Company

Skittle Me This

Steiff Skittles

Perched happily on top of wooden platforms, this rooster and his brood of eight colorful hens are waiting for someone to throw the cheese and hit a floorer. If that sounds like jibberish, you might want to brush up on the lingo for the game of skittles! While we think of skittles as a candy that lets you taste the rainbow, skittles is also a game related to bowling. The game has been played for centuries and there are several different regional versions. In Old English skittles, players throw a rounded piece of heavy wood called a cheese to knock over pins at the end of an alley. In other versions, players roll a small ball to knock over the pins.

The owner of these Steiff Company rooster and chicken skittles probably didn’t have the best aim, judging from the undamaged, brightly colored felt. Steiff produced skittles sets featuring felt animals from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. While the game of skittles has waned in popularity in recent decades, it is still played in the United Kingdom and is known as a game that is friendly and accessible, even for newcomers… just don’t call it bowling!

From Adversity to Prosperity

Steiff Elephant

Margarete Steiff was born in a small town in Germany in 1847 to a working class family. At just 18 months old, she contracted polio and lost the use of her legs, confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Steiff carried on though, remaining outgoing and cheerful through her childhood. Eventually she was able to take needlework classes and became trained in several forms of tailoring including dressmaking, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery. With the money she saved up from giving zither lessons, she purchased a sewing machine- the first in her village! Because her right arm was weakened by polio, she adapted her sewing machine to work left-handed by turning it around and sewing backwards. How’s that for innovative?

Just for fun, Steiff began sewing felt toy elephants as gifts for children and pincushions for her friends. Her brother Fritz realized that she had a created a marketable product and encouraged her to make more. He took them to toy markets in neighboring cities and they were a hit. The profits from the toy elephants eventually spurred the opening of the Steiff “Felt Toy Factory” in 1893. A testament to Steiff’s perseverance, the company became the largest manufacturer of stuffed toys in Germany, and is still around today.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Bearing It All

Steiff Teddy Bear

An avid hunter, outdoorsman, and statesman, with his signature bristly mustache and furled brow, we often think of President Teddy Roosevelt as a tough and gruff historical figure who carried a big stick. But did you know that the oh-so-cuddly teddy bear was named after him? It all started when he went on a Mississippi bear hunting trip in 1902. Other members of the hunting party had successful outings, but not Roosevelt. Pitying his failure, a hunting guide cornered an elderly bear and tethered it to a tree for Roosevelt to shoot. Being a sportsman and a diplomat, he refused to kill the poor, helpless animal. A political cartoonist at The Washington Post caught wind of this story and illustrated the event. The story captured Americans’ hearts and gave rise to the furry friend we know and love today.

The teddy bear pictured above was photographed with his owner Mable Dixon during the first years of America’s teddy bear craze in 1906. Manufactured by the Steiff Company, he is made of mohair, yarn, and wool felt with glass eyes. According to the recorded oral history that accompanied the bear to T/m, Mable’s mother passed away when she was young. When her father remarried, she was sent to live with her grandparents. Mable recalled that she would hit the bear on the nose when she was frustrated with her father. Notice the worn mohair? Ever-empathetic, we like to think this bear would get Teddy Roosevelt’s stamp of approval: “BULLY!”