Theodore Roosevelt Cartoons

One very famous political cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt also led to the invention of a children’s toy: teddy bears. In November 1902, then-President Roosevelt was on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi. Invited on the trip by the state’s governor (Andrew H. Longino), Teddy was the only one who had not killed an animal after several hours of hunting. Thinking they were being helpful, a few attendants clubbed and tied a black bear to a tree, and suggested he shoot it and call it his own. Roosevelt took one look at the bear, helpless and wounded, and refused to shoot it, claiming it was unfair and ‘unsportsmanlike’. This incident – so indicative of Roosevelt’s character – was memorialized in a political cartoon drawn by Clifford Berryman. Published in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902, it was entitled, “Drawing the Line in Mississippi”. The drawing showed the president resting his rifle on the ground as he stands with his hand in a ‘no thank you’ behind him, where a man is attempting to pull a very young black bear (with a rope around its neck) over to Roosevelt. Although Berryman was, by no means, the only cartoonist to take up the issue of Roosevelt and bears, his was the first.

Not only was this cartoon an instant sensation, it was the genesis of a child’s stuffed toy: the teddy bear. When a man named Morris Michtom saw Berryman’s cartoon, he was inspired to create a new toy. Stuffing a bear cub, he sent one to Roosevelt and asked permission to use his name. After receiving the go ahead, he put the bear in the window of his store with a card reading “Teddy’s bear”. The toy was such a huge success, Michtom opened a toy company called Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. The bears were a huge sensation for several years, waning slightly in popularity after Roosevelt’s death in 1919, but regaining after WWII.

Another popular Theodore Roosevelt cartoon topic was his ‘Big Stick’ philosophy. In a speech delivered at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2, 1901 he said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” This phrase was a summary of Teddy’s simplistic-sounding foreign diplomacy theory. According to his theory, in order to be successful as a country, American leaders should negotiate and be diplomatic out in the open, while maintaining the threat of military force in the background. When the press got wind of this phrase, they ran with it. From the time he uttered those words, until he stepped away from politics, there were scores of political cartoons and drawings featuring Theodore and his ‘big stick’. In one, he is shown as a giant – sitting on a battleship in the water by Panama – holding a huge club on his lap, labeled “The Big Stick”. This cartoon depicted a popular sentiment that he had ‘bullied’ his way into the Panama, resulting in the completion of the Panama Canal (1902).