The Library of Congress Presents the Songs of America: “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic”

Teddy bears, made in New York, on table, in factory(?) [1915. George Grantham Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

Teddy bears, made in New York, on table, in factory(?) [1915. George Grantham Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

It is a long cultural journey from President Teddy Roosevelt to pop singer Anne Murray to art house film director Peter Greenaway. But this is just one of the paths you can take using the new web presentation  The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America as a starting point.

At the turn of the twentieth century, nobody expected the repercussions of political discourse to include a childhood companion that has endured into the twenty-first century. But commerce, craft and entrepreneurship formed a perfect union in 1902. Then-President Theodore Roosevelt, known to his chagrin as “Teddy,” became the subject of a fateful political cartoon when, on a hunting expedition in Mississippi, he refused to shoot a bear that was captured and subdued for his benefit. Cartoonist Clifford Berryman caricatured the incident in The Washington Post in a cartoon that caught the eye of Morris Mitchum, who was inspired to create “Teddy’s Bear.”

The rest is history, for your toy chest and for the jukebox. John Walter Bratton composed “The Teddy Bear Two-step,” later known as “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” in 1907. The Songs of America presentation features one of the earliest recordings of the tune, a humorous Arthur Pryor’s Band session from 1908 which casts a trombone in the leading role of the growling bear.

The teddy bear’s origins go back to American politics, but the song’s popular lyrics originated across the pond. Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy composed lyrics to “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” in 1932, by which time President Roosevelt’s connection to teddy bears was probably lost to most of the children who favored their mangy familiars. Englishman Henry Hall recorded the first vocal version of “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” and in the decades since, an eclectic variety of musicians has performed the beloved children’s song, including Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia, Canadian pop singer Anne Murray, New York folk singer Dave Van Ronk, and cabaret singer and friend of the Library of Congress, Michael Feinstein. The playful song has a surprisingly sinister side that has been used in the movies as in British director Peter Greenaway’s 1985 film A Zed and Two Noughts. History has proven this to be a particularly well travelled bear, and the Music Division hopes the Songs of America provides a launching pad for countless musical journeys.

More than two years in the making, Songs of America brings forward 80,000 digitized, curated items including maps, recordings, videos, sheet music, essays, biographies, curator talks and more to explore America’s history through the prism of song. Be sure to read other Library of Congress blogs today for more about this vast collection.

8 Comments

  1. Bruce Kaplan
    February 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    The Henry Hall BBC Dance Orchestra version is the definitive recording of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”. The vocalist on that record was a young Brit named Val Rosing who in later years became an American citizen and sang opera with the NY and SF Opera companies under the name Gilbert Russell. You can read more about him at http://www.valrosing.com.

  2. Robert Csech
    June 22, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    An original Teddy Roosevelt bear has been discovered. Hand made by Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, New York. The Michtom’s made so few of these first style Teddy’s. That they were lost in time. Until Now. This bear is in all original condition. he is a very rare bear indeed. Some day he belongs in the Smithsonian Institute. but this will take time. the Michtom’s created this first style teddy bear to stand upright and to have this full open mouth that smiled. Including dimples to enhance the bears smile. Please Google+ by Robert Csech to read more and to see amazing pictures of the bear.

  3. Cheryl Carr Wood
    November 23, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    The subject of The Teddy Bears Picnic song came up after dinner tonight ( It is Thanksgiving) # generations are sharing the evening so I sang them what I could remember..I am 75 Got home this evening and had to check it out. Thank you for Songs of America information and the teddy bear history as well.

  4. donna v
    March 27, 2018 at 11:36 am

    The name of the score is “Teddy Bears Picnic” without apostrophe. The sheet music cover has resulted in error of the title, by placing white-leaf markings as hyphen between the names and as apostrophe (Teddy-Bears’ Picnic) – however, it was never Bear’s.

    Although Roosevelt did not shoot or have shot the bear, he had it knifed to death, and it provided meals for the hunters and crew, including paw soup.

    Michtom did not start manufacturing teddy bears until it had already become a popular item through the Steiff model and American made knock-offs.

  5. Robert Csech
    March 23, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    A picture of the original teddy bear circa 1903. Has been featured on this site sense Nov of 2014. Icon, Smithsonian Photo Contest. On above bar hit MOST VIEWED, See this very unique teddy bear. Hand made by Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, N.Y. This bear is a true American Icon!

  6. Ngoinhagaubong.com
    June 20, 2019 at 4:29 am

    I think this name ” teddy bear picnic” is a lgend of song i see https://ngoinhagaubong.com/

  7. NeroClaw
    December 4, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Robert Csech, your bear is not a rare early American Ideal teddy bear. Yours is most likely European and circa 1910+. The first bears that were made had black shoe button eyes. The glass eyes with the pupils were not used on teddy bears, especially the Ideal bears until at least 1908+.

    You have gone onto numerous websites telling everyone your bear is the “million dollar bear”. Teddy bear experts know better and have told you your bear is not what you think it is. Numerous museums want nothing to do with this so called “rare” antique early Ideal bear and celebrated authors and experts of antique teddy bear books will not even reply to you.

    I am so sorry you want this bear to be an early ideal bear, but no matter how hard you believe or wish it to be, it never will be. You need to realize that you were mistaken and move on.

  8. Robert Csech
    December 18, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Nero Claw. You are so wrong. I have been into antiques over fifty years. My old bear is absolutely an original Teddy Roosevelt bear circa 1903. Side by side compare the famous Smithsonian bear to my bear standing up. both 24 inches tall. Start from the ears down. To the drumstick legs. To the belly. See .. for five years now the Smithsonian Magazine online has featured my old bear on this website, Please Google up. Icon Smithsonian Photo contest. Once there click on MOST VIEWED, See. Early Morris Michtom bears had this heavy head and a large metal joint in their upper chest. this joint for their neck to turn after years with its heavy head. caused early Michtom bears to tilt their head downward. Early Michtom bears stood upright with flat feet. Do you think Morris Michtom would honor President T.R with a bear without a full open mouth. Morris Michtom was an expert in creativity.

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