With the help of her nephew Richard, Margarete Steiff established the Steiff company in 1877, devoted to the production of mohair animals and stuffed bears.
Appolonia Margarete Steiff was born in Giengen 24th July 1847, the third of four children. She had two older sisters and a younger brother. Margarete was a very lively and well-built child. She led a carefree life until she became ill with polio when she was 1 and half years old. She was destined never to walk and to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Her mother found this very difficult to bear. She would have to care for her daughter for as long as she lived. Her daughter would never be able to take on the role of housewife and mother and, at the time, it seemed as though she had absolutely no prospects for the future.
However, she did not allow her infirmities to dampen her industrious spirit. She became an accomplished seamstress with her own dressmaking company. The young entrepreneur would collect remnant pieces of felt from the dresses and turn them into animals for the children to play with in her neighborhood. It was a felt elephant pincushion that became a neighborhood favorite and was put into larger production in 1880.
After she founded the Steiff company, her nephew Richard convinced her that a joined bear should be the focus of the product line, which was first presented at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903. Richard had observed the grizzly bears at the Stuttgart Zoo and thought a mohair version would be a prime product. The bears' acceptance was mixed, and they were even ridiculed by some as "stuffed misfits". However, at the conclusion of the fair, an American confectioner from New York ordered 3,000 bears on the spot. By 1908, close to a million Steiff bears had been sold.
Margarete worked on her success with an iron will, but a warm-hearted atmosphere always prevailed in spite of this. The production volume increased to 1.7 million toy animals between 1903 and 1907. There were 400 people working on the premises, another 1,800 women were employed as home workers. The jointed bear set off on his march of conquest in America. And he owed his later name "Teddy bear" (since 1906) to none other than President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Margarete was 61 years old when she died on 9th April 1909. What at the beginning seemed to be a hopeless life with out any prospects, Margarete became a shining example of what can be achieved.
Today, Steiff continues to produce a variety of plush and mohair animals, but it is the bear that dominates the company's current production and the international secondan collector's market.