Listen to this story on “Retropod”:
But if you’re heading out for a family trip this summer, don’t feel bad; one of history’s roughest and toughest presidents used to vacation. And one of those trips became so legendary, you probably know about it, even if you don’t think you do.
In the fall of 1902, a year into his presidency, President Theodore Roosevelt headed to Mississippi for a bear-hunting vacation. There are only about 50 bears in the whole state these days, but, according to state park officials, in the early 1900s, Mississippi’s dense hardwood forests and canebrakes were home to thousands. Hunting dogs would chase them out into the open, where hunters on horseback could take aim.
Newspapers breathlessly recounted his train ride to the wilderness and the roughness of the camp. “PRESIDENT IN CAMP; READY FOR BEARS,” the New York Times wrote on Nov. 14:
“He was clad in hunting costume, riding trousers, heavy leather leggings, blue flannel shirt, corduroy coat, and wore brown slouch hat; around his waist was buckled his cartridge belt and at this side hung his ivory-handled hunting knife.”
The next day, after hours of vigorous pursuit, Roosevelt still hadn’t bagged a bear. A guide chased a small one into a thicket, then told Roosevelt to wait on the other side for the bear to come out. After some time, Roosevelt left for lunch. No sooner did he leave than the bear ran out of the thicket.
“Had they remained, the president would have had a shot,” a Washington Post article chided.
The bear, exhausted, fought valiantly with hunting dogs before the guide clubbed it over the head and tied it to a tree. He summoned the president to take his shot. Roosevelt refused. By his measure, it was unsportsmanlike to shoot an injured and tethered animal. He urged an aide to put it out of its misery.
The rest of the hunt wasn’t much better, perhaps caused by contingents of “insurgent” reporters hunting the president through the canebrakes and scaring away animals. After a few more days, Roosevelt gave up. “A string of trout the only trophy of the hunting party,” the New York Times announced.
News of the hypermasculine president’s vacation flop spurred Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman to draw a cartoon of his refusal to shoot the small bear, which he shrank further to cub size. It ran in newspapers across the country.
A Brooklyn, N.Y., shop owner saw the cartoon and had an idea for a new toy. He and his wife sewed a plush stuffed bear, and, with Roosevelt’s permission, set it in a window display labeled “Teddy’s bear.” And thus, the teddy bear was born. It continues to be one of the most popular children’s toys in the world, and it even has had a march composed in its honor.
There are no known plans for plush golf carts in honor of Trump’s R&R at this time.