The story of an extraordinary woman and a unique company
The story of children’s dreams come true: As an energetic young girl, Margarete Steiff fought for her place in life, against much resistance.
With a pin cushion in the shape of a small stuffed elephant, she wrote the first chapter of the unprecedented success story, which is still being continued today, over 100 years later.
Thanks to the loving dedication and quality consciousness of all the employees, the story of Margarete Steiff and Steiff GmbH remain inseparable from each other.
How it all began
On 24th July 1847, Margarete Steiff was born in Giengen on the Brenz, as the third of four children. When she was 18 months old she was ill with a high fever following which her legs were paralysed and it hurt her to use her right arm.
Three years later a doctor in Ulm would diagnose child paralysis. The many doctor's visits and treatments did not help, her parents grew disconsolate. What could little Margarete expect from life now? She would be dependant on the care of others for life. But the cheerful Margarete fought for her place. She was taken to school in a hay cart by her siblings and neighbouring children, and taken upstairs to the classroom by a woman who lived near to the school.
Apprenticeship and first steps
In spite of the pain in her right hand, Margarete also went to sewing school and at the age of 17 she completed her training as a seamstress.
Her older sisters Marie and Pauline opened a women’s tailors in 1862 which she also worked in from time to time. When Marie and Pauline left their home town around 8 years later, Margarete continued alone.
The foundations were laid - the step towards independence
In 1874 Margarete’s father converted her parent’s house and built her her own work room, a small tailors shop. With the first money that she earned herself she bought her own sewing machine. She could only move the fly wheel on the right hand side with difficulty, and so without further ado the machine was reversed.
In 1877 Adolf Glatz, her cousin’s husband, advised her to take the step towards independence. Thereupon Margarete founded her own felt clothing business and successfully sold clothes and household articles which she had made. Soon she was able to employ several seamstresses. In the magazine ”Modenwelt“ (fashion world) from 8th December 1879, Margarete saw the sewing pattern for a small stuffed elephant. Using this pattern, she made the elephant as a pin cushion, but soon the little stuffed animals were very popular as children's toys.
Margarete Steiff GmbH is founded
The official founding date of Steiff Manufacture was 1880. The first big seller was the elephant, which her younger brother Fritz sold at the nearby Heidenheim market. Just six years later Margarete had sold over 5,000 elephants and was now designing other stuffed animals too. In 1890 Fritz built a house for his sister, with a flat on the first floor, designed for disabled people, and a small shop on the first floor. At the house in what is today ”Margarete Steiff Straße“ there is the sign “Filz-Spielwaren-Fabrik”.
In 1892 the first illustrated Steiff catalogue was released which showed the diversity of the range. In addition to elephants there were monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, hares and giraffes. In the catalogue was also Margarete’s motto, “for children, only the best is good enough!“.
One year later, on March 3rd 1893, the toy factory was entered in the trade register as ”Margarete Steiff, felt toy factory Giengen/Brenz”. For the first time the toys were presented at the Leipzig toy trade fair. Margarete now employed 4 seamstresses and 10 home workers.
The teddy bear is born...
Richard Steiff, Margarete’s creative favourite nephew, entered the company in 1897. He attended the school of applied arts in Stuttgart and studied in England. His animal sketches were the basis for many Steiff creations. In 1902 he designed the "Bear 55PB" bears, the worldwide first stuffed bears with moveable arms and legs. When searching for a suitable covering, Richard found the cuddly and good for colouring mohair plush, produced by the Schulte pile weaving mill in Duisburg.
Margarete herself remained sceptical, but Richard was allowed to present his bears at the Leipzig toy trade fair.
...and conquers the world
The breakthrough came when an American trader discovered the bears and ordered 3,000 of them. The bears began an unprecedented selling success in the USA from 1906 under the name of teddy bear - named after the American president Theodore ”Teddy“ Roosevelt.
In order to make their own high quality products unmistakeable, and fend off numerous cheap imitations, Franz Steiff developed the brand sign "Steiff - Button in Ear". At the world exhibition in St. Louis, Margarete was awarded the Grand Prix, and finally in 1906 Margarete Steiff GmbH was founded, the company name which is still used today.
In 1907 400 employees and 1800 home workers produced 973,999 teddy bears and a total of around 1,700,000 toys. An international company arose which continually expanded its product range.
Margarete Steiff died on 9th May 1909 at the age of 61, following a lung infection.
This was a hard blow for the Steiff family, friends and employees. Margarete’s nephews took over the company and people from all over the world continue to dream her dream even today. Margarete Steiff created something which is bigger than life.
Steiff worlds arise
In 1910 Steiff won the Grand Prix at the world exhibition in Brussels, show pieces with a multitude of stuffed toys and animals inspired the public.
The ”Steiff circus“ used mechanically moved figures for the first time. One of the most successful show pieces, "Noah’s ark" came about four years later. Then there were hard times but not only for the company: in the hard years of the war and after the war Steiff finally had to adjust their range - paper type materials meant that the so called ”paper teddy bears“ came into existence, and toys made of wood were added to the range.
Hard times in a positive sense
In the golden twenties there was once again a demand for fabric and plush. Steiff introduced production line manufacture, in order to satisfy the high demand for above all their stuffed dogs. The plush dog Molly went down a storm and over 500,000 were sold by 1932.
The new beginning
The next difficult time was during the 2nd world war. After the end of the war the company restarted in 1947, and already 1 year later it was employing almost 1,000 employees, and 5 years later twice as many. Among other things this rapid growth was due to Mecki, the mascot of a television newspaper and a figure from the puppet feature film by the Diehl brothers, which was manufactured by Steiff as a stuffed puppet from 1951.
In 1953 the teddy bear celebrated its 50th birthday - the jubilee bear ”Jackie“ was presented for this occasion in a completely new design - as a funny bear child with a small belly button.
The 80’s begin with the 100 years company anniversary, when the Margarete Steiff Museum was opened in Giengen - a forerunner of today’s experience museum, ”The world of Steiff“. In addition Steiff began to produce animal replicas in limited editions for their fans. ”Petsy“ - the children’s favourite captured the market and the hearts of Steiff friends around the globe.
Then - finally- on 1st April 1992 the Steiff club was founded for lovers and collectors of all Steiff animals, with exclusive club advantages and own club editions.
In order to be able to present own products in the cities in an appropriate surrounding, the first Steiff gallery was opened in Hamburg in 1997 on the anniversary of Margarete Steiff’s 150th birthday. Three years later Cologne, Munich and Dusseldorf followed with Steiff galleries, and then Berlin, Vienna, Nuremburg and Stuttgart. In 2003 there were openings in Kiel, Hanover, Wiesbaden, Zurich and a second Steiff gallery in Hamburg. In 2004 a Steiff gallery opened in Bromley (London).
The new millennium
Naturally the success story continued into the new century, and new paths were walked. So the world première of the musical ”teddy - a musical dream“ took place in 2002. Also in Giengen the home of all Steiff animals, there were things going on: the Steiff experience world was presented in 2003 for the first time. Up until 2005 the ”World of Steiff“ experience museum was built on the company grounds, according to instructions of architect Andreas Ramseier. It is an architectural paramount achievement and offers an animated dream world for the whole family on an area of 2,400m². Just right for the 125 year company jubilee "the world of Steiff" opened its gates. The icing on the cake of the company jubilee was the costly 125 carat teddy bear edition.
For the first time in 2006 the Steiff Summer was hosted in the company grounds in Giengen on the Brenz, a large summer festival, which is especially held for Steiff friends and families and offers a lot of fun and excitement for all age groups. In 1907 almost a million teddy bears were produced.
In 2007 - exactly 100 years later - the jubilee edition "a million hugs" was published on this occasion.
2007 comes up with the presentation of Steiff's new look.
Read here, how a Steiff animal comes to live from an idea in a multitude of elaborate steps. The excellent quality and the beauty of the products are the result of months of development and loving work by hand. In any case it could not be any other way, because real characters do not come from machines. And a Steiff animal is much more than a product: it is the expression of high quality inventions and first-class craftsmanship.
Design - Attention to detail
To design our animals the designers work closely with the original examples. In this way the appearance and movement of the animals can be copied as realistically as possible.
The idea for a new Steiff animal comes from the largest provider of ideas - nature.
The individual specialities and features of the animals are copied as precisely as possible. The inspirations are then captured in the first sketches.
The sketch defines the dimension - for example the size - of a new design. The first designs are discussed and improved until a consensus is reached.
The pattern is designed and transferred exactly to the relevant material. Subsequently such a prototype is made: it is the binding sample for the future animals in this range.
Material - Best materials for excellent quality
The best materials ensure the excellent quality of all Steiff products. Steiff uses mostly natural materials of exquisite quality, such as mohair, alpaca or woven plush.
For more than 100 years the shiny fur of the Steiff originals has come from one and the same supplier. This loyalty is based on trust in the excellent quality: Over the decades the mohair plush keeps its colour, silky shine and grip. The raw material for the exclusive mohair is the long grown hairy fur of the extremely valuable angora goat. Worked in tuft textile, the mohair is particularly hardwearing, its silky grip and shine make it one of the most valuable fibres which nature offers us.
Light, fine and extraordinarily soft: this is one of the most exquisite raw materials in the world, Alpaca. For the Incas it was worth gold and the appreciation of the hard wearing luxury hair has not changed until today. Steiff animals made of Alpaca are extraordinarily soft, hard wearing and remain beautiful for a very long time. And because exquisite materials never lose their beauty, touching your Steiff animal is still just as nice in many years time as at the beginning.
Head and body
Nothing is comparable with the wonderful feeling of stroking the heads and bodies of our Steiff animals. Mohair and Alpaca are particularly soft, another reason for us to use this exquisite luxury hair.
Production - Only the best earn the button
After producing a sample animal, a pattern will be created which is binding for future animals.
It will be transferred exactly onto the reverse side of the mohair; practised seamstresses will then produce the body shell from the individual parts by precise sewing. So that they receive their real life shape, they will be stuffed with either wood shavings, which apart from high precision also requires great power.
Steiff also uses other synthetic stuffing material alongside this, which is produced from polyester and is blasted into the sewing shell with pressurised air: it is washable and has a high wad power and shape stability, it is perfectly hygienic and flame resistant, as fleece it must be manually processed with a stuffing iron.
In any case the Steiff animal is only completed when the dark eye buttons are placed in and fastened by cautious hands. Literally a special moment.
Only when the Steiff animals have successfully passed the final checks do they receive a button in the ear, their washing and material information tag, as well as bow and chest tags.
With the friendly support of the Steiff company, who provided the neccessary documentation on their history. This text comes from the Steiff companys website: www.Steiff.com