Steiff Anniversary

This Teddy Bear Company Has Been Around For 140 Years

By: Broadry, National Lifestyle Content Desk

Founded in 1880, Steiff is the manufacturer of high-end toys and collectibles. The original founder, Margarete Steiff, was recently inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. In this week’s Q&A, we discuss this achievement with Steiff Spokesperson Liza Marques Grando and learn what’s ahead for the toy company.

Q: Congrats on the Toy Hall of Fame induction for Founder Margarete Steiff, it must mean a lot?

Liza: Naturally, all of us at Steiff are incredibly proud and honored to be associated with a true pioneer. It’s hard to imagine a more worthy inductee into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame than Margarete Steiff. Her contributions to the toy industry simply cannot be overstated. After all, she sewed the world’s first soft plush toy, which changed the world of play forever.

Her achievements are even more remarkable when you consider that she overcame a serious physical disability, and also founded a tremendously successful company during an era when the world of business was widely dominated by men.

Margarete Steiff
Margarete Steiff

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how Steiff got started?

Liza: Margarete Steiff learned to sew as a child and, as a young woman, began making clothing under her own brand name. While thumbing through a fashion magazine one day, Margarete noticed a pattern for a small elephant pincushion. She decided to make a few of these as gifts for friends and family. 

Soon, the children of the little German village where she lived had adopted and repurposed the pincushions as the world’s first soft toys — a true innovation in a time when most toys were made of hard materials such wood, bisque, or metal.

By 1893, Steiff’s company shifted away from the clothing business to focus exclusively on toys. The growing entity gained its biggest boost in 1897, when her nephew, Richard Steiff, joined the firm. He went on to invent the Teddy bear in 1902, undoubtedly the most famous toy of all time. By 1907, Margarete Steiff GmbH was producing more than one million Teddy bears each year. Still based in that same small town in Germany, her company continues to thrive today.

Q: Steiff has quite an inspiring story of perseverance; can you tell us a bit about her life story?

Liza: Margarete’s story is one of great courage and tenacity. She was stricken with polio at 18 months old and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Even though the disease had left her permanently paralyzed, she learned to use her one good arm to operate a sewing machine, laying the foundation for her new company. So from her humble sewing workshop — and despite the many obstacles she faced — Margarete founded a toy company that is still one of the most prestigious names in toys today.

Q: How has Steiff evolved over the years?

Liza: As a global company that has been around for more than a century, Steiff has obviously had to evolve with the times. From its earliest years, Steiff was known for its exceptionally crafted and beautifully designed toys. Many of the company’s early playthings have ended up in museums, and many more are highly valued in the secondary market. In modern times, Steiff’s global reputation for manufacturing the finest contemporary toys and collectibles is still well-recognized in the industry. Every product we make is in accordance with Margarete Steiff’s motto: “Only the best is good enough for children.”

Q: What’s ahead for Steiff?

Liza: We embrace our heritage as a truly global toy brand since the 1880’s, and acknowledge our beginnings in the United States in the early 1900’s. Now the Steiff brand has broadened its reach well beyond our traditional segments of collectibles and classic plush. In 2018, we re-focused on the children’s market with the launch of our popular “Soft Cuddly Friends” line which features super-soft premium fabrics, contemporary colors, and modern designs. The collection has been extremely well-received due to our ongoing commitment to excellence in design, materials, and manufacture, as well as new retail price points under $40.

Outside of toys and collectibles, Steiff has recently relaunched a premium children’s clothing collection that is enjoying great success in Europe, and we are now expanding that collection to the United States and other parts of the world. This is just the latest step we are taking to make sure our 140-year brand adapts to current times, while providing the framework for the next 140 years.

To learn more about Steiff’s history, visit steiffusa.com