Toys with German Ties

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 2018.029.01-03

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

In 1880, Margarete Steiff, a seamstress in Germany, began producing small felt elephants to sell as toys for children.

Over time her company grew and began producing the luxury teddy bears and stuffed animals that they are known for today.

In 1904, the signature of the brand “Steiff — Knopf im Ohr” (Button in Ear) was developed by the company to ward off cheap imitations. Steiff stuffed animals are known for the circular metal tag that says “STEIFF” attached to the animal’s ear.

Before World War I, one of Margarete’s nephews, Ernst Steiff, left Germany and moved to La Crosse. While it is unknown why Steiff moved, he stayed in the area for more than a decade before returning to Germany to work at his family’s business.

Steiff did not come to La Crosse quietly; he made quite an impression upon the locals by wandering up and down city streets and up to Grandad Bluff playing his flute. According to the La Crosse Tribune, at first the residents were startled because they were unsure where the music was coming from. After they realized the music was coming from Steiff, they began to enjoy it.

In addition to being a piper, Steiff worked at the Hans Motor Company, also known as the Electric Auto-lite Company, as an electrical engineer. He was also active at Salzer United Methodist Church and was a volunteer minister to the sick.

During the Roaring Twenties, the Steiff business was booming, and in 1927 Ernst returned to Germany to work with his brothers. Before he left, Steiff gave these stuffed animals to La Crosse residents promoting his aunt’s company and spreading good cheer throughout the area. These three stuffed toys all have the characteristic metal tag in their ear.

The stuffed animals were recently donated to La Crosse County Historical Society by Rose Thiel along with a small brochure about Steiff’s time in La Crosse.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 4, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.