Stuffed toys are known by many names including plush toys, plushies, snuggies, stuffies, snuggley animals and stuffed animals, but whatever you call them, chances are you've owned one, or many, throughout your life. Plushies are the holy grail of toys given to young children as presents, used as security and comfort devices, and are beloved much more than almost any other type of toy. Today, the stuffed toy can be found at every price range, with stuffed animals, monsters, aliens, and even household objects all available from toy shops around the world.
But, where did these lovable, huggable toys come from? Whether you're a fan of inexpensive toys like never ending stream of new TY plushies or prefer something a little more refined like Steiff, the history of stuffed toys is both interesting and remarkable.
In the Beginning
Cultures around the world have created replicas of animals since the beginning of recorded history by painting, carving, and even chiseling animal figures and heads. In fact, while the modern stuffed toy dates back to the late 1800s, the first true stuffed toys were created in Roman times, with the creation of rag dolls. These dolls were made of fabric scraps and filled with more of the same or straw by poor children who couldn't afford expensive wooden carvings. Some of these dolls have been dated as late as 300 BC.
Modern Stuffed Toys
(The original stuffed elephant, produced in 1880)
In 1880, Margarete Steiff began producing stuffed elephants using a pattern she found in a magazine. She sold them as pincushions, but quickly began manufacturing them as toys when she noticed children playing with them. Within 6 years, she had sold over 5,000, and by the 1890s, her company was producing a variety of stuffed animals including dogs, cats, and pigs, most of which she designed herself.
(A replica of one of the original Steiff bears)
In 1902, the then American president Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt went on a hunting trip and spared a bear cub that had been caught for the expedition from being shot. The Washington post immortalized the story in a cartoon, which was then made even more famous when a shop owner known as Morris Michtom, who had already duplicated the Steiff stuffed toys in his shop, saw the bear. He made a plush version and named it the Teddy Bear. Shortly after in the same year, the Steiff company began producing Teddy Bears as well, and an icon was born.
Michtom's company went on to become one of the largest toy manufacturers in the USA under the name of the Ideal Toy Company. Steiff also achieved international fame, becoming one of the most popular in the world, famous for their high quality standards for safety, materials, and workmanship.
Stuffed toys started out small, and were often a toy for either the very privileged or the poor who could make them themselves with rags and fabric scraps. However, during the early 1900s, mass production allowed Teddy Bears to make their way into nearly every home, becoming a childhood staple alongside a variety of other stuffed toys created by companies like Gund and Mattel. But, after World War II, during the post war baby boom, the market for toys soared, making way for new brands including the Wallace Berry Company (Later to become Applause) who manufactured licensed Disney, Warner Bros, and Jim Henson toys, the Mary Meyer Corporation, Commonwealth of PA, Jerry Elsner, Mattel, and many more.
Stuffed toys as we know them hit the market during the 1980s, as companies added fictional characters from movies and cartoons to the repertoire of plush toys. Brands like Mattel brought Winnie the Poo and Sesame Street to life, while American Greetings introduced My Pet Monster, Strawberry Shortcake, and the Care Bears. During the 1990s, stuffed toys became a collectible with brands like TY dominating the market, selling bears and other figures in every color and style. Others like Build a Bear commercialized the desire for custom toys, and most of the world has never looked back.
Today, stuffed toys are produced everywhere, are a staple at zoos, a must have for children, and a fun and lovable experience for people of all ages. They're also one of the most sold toys, and are popular for everyone from babies to adults, and for good reason. Even if by some chance you've never owned a stuffed animal, they're hard not to love.
License 2 Play is a wholesale toy manufacturer and distributor with a range of stuffed toys including licensed brands like Sausage Party, Finding Dory, Angry Birds Movie, and many more.