2021 Posthumous Inductee – Margarete Steiff
Born in 1847 in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, Margarete Steiff (1847-1909) was stricken with polio at 18 months old and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. As a young girl, her parents arranged for her to take sewing lessons along with her sisters; they felt these lessons were vitally important so that she could one day support herself.
Even though polio had left her permanently paralyzed, she learned to use her one good arm to operate a sewing machine, and by 1879, was skilled enough to begin making and selling clothing under her own brand name. While thumbing through a fashion magazine of the era, the now-accomplished seamstress noticed a pattern for a small elephant pincushion.
She decided to make a few of these as gifts for friends and family. Before long, the children of Giengen had adopted and repurposed the pincushions as the world’s first soft toys and an entirely new kind of plaything was born, replacing the wooden and tin toys and hard bisque dolls of the era.
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 and by 1907, Margarete Steiff GmbH was producing more than 1 million Teddy bears a year.
Today, the Steiff assortment of more than 800 different bears and other animals is available on every continent.