Born in what is now Germany in 1847, as a child Margareta contracted everyone’s nightmare, polio in which there was little anyone could do for her and she bore the pain, but she survived. For the rest of her life, she would be in a wheelchair, without use of her legs.
But Margarete also faced another difficult problem. In the 19th century, if parents could afford to educate their children, they often educated their sons, for daughters usually became wives and mothers and they labored on the farms or did repetitive work in factories.
Given her bright mind, Margarete was determined to be self-sufficient and pressed her parents to pay for her education. At first they refused but eventually she convinced them.
After receiving a basic education Margarete became a seamstress, but she was determined to use that knowledge of tailoring to found and build a business. Once again her parents were skeptical that a disabled person, and a woman, could accomplish such a thing.
Margarete began creating and stitching cute and cuddly animals at first as pincushions and then as toys, with some success and in 1880, at the age of 33, she formed a company, Steiff, to create those adorable animals on a grand scale.
She focused on employing as many disabled people as she could, to give them the opportunities she too had longed for. And she and her team would only build top quality cuddly animals, priced at a premium.
As a result, parents who could afford quality bought Margarete’s products and collectors bought them as well, as the Steiff reputation for quality spread far and wide. As production and profits grew, she had a successful company.
But Margarete’s big breakthrough came in 1902 when she heard U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, rescued a baby bear cub, that otherwise would have been shot or left to die in the wilderness.
In President Roosevelt’s honor, Margarete created the “Teddy Bear,” a cute little bear whose sales skyrocketed all over the U.S. and eventually across the world. Today, her Teddy Bears continue to be very popular and are easily recognizable by the trademarked button in their left ear.
As for Margarete, she stayed active in Steiff until her passing in 1909. But even now, the company still uses her motto as their guide: “Only the best is good enough for children,” as Steiff produces stuffed toys we can all treasure.