Margarete Steiff Inducted Into Toy Industry Hall of Fame

steiff portrait and bear

Steiff North America announces that the Toy Association has bestowed its highest award upon the founder of the company. Margarete Steiff (1847-1909) has been inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. She is known as the pioneer who sewed the world’s very first plush toy, changing the world of play forever. Her legacy will be recognized during the Toy Association’s annual Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards, known as the “Oscars” of the toy industry, set to be held virtually on February 12, 2021.

“It is hard to imagine a more fitting honoree for the Toy Industry Hall of Fame,” said Jim Pitocco, President of Steiff North America. “Margarete became one of the world’s earliest female CEOs, despite societal norms and her physical disabilities. More than a century after her death, her long-stated philosophy is still the company’s guiding principle: ‘Only the best is good enough for our children’,” he added.

Born in 1847 in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, Margarete Steiff was stricken with polio at 18 months old and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Even though the disease had left her permanently paralyzed, she learned to use her one good arm to operate a sewing machine — becoming skilled enough to begin making and selling clothing under her own brand name.

While thumbing through a fashion magazine of the era, Margarete noticed a pattern for a small elephant pincushion. She decided to make a few of these as gifts for friends and family. Soon, the children of Giengen had adopted and repurposed the pincushions as the world’s first soft toys. Suddenly, 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, undoubtably the most famous toy of all time. And by 1907, Margarete Steiff GmbH was producing more than 1 million Teddy bears a year. Still based in Germany, her company continues to thrive today — more than 140 years after its founding.

Margarete Steiff joins an impressive roster of 77 toy industry luminaries who have been inducted into the Hall since it was established in 1984, including those who brought to life Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Barbie (Ruth and Elliot Handler), The Muppets (Jim Henson), and more.

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