Short Biography of Margarete Steiff
Illness and zest for living: 1847 - 1856
Appolonia Margarete Steiff was born in Giengen 24th July 1847, the third of four children. She had two older sisters and a brother, who was born after her.

Her father, Friedrich Steiff, was a master builder in Giengen and her mother, Maria Margarete Steiff, née Hähnle, ran the household and supported her father in his work.

Although Giengen - which is situated between Ulm and Heidenheim on the eastern side of the Swabian Alps - had a town charter, it still possessed more village character.

Margarete was a very lively, well-built child and led a carefree life until she became ill with polio at the early age of 1½. She was destined never to walk and to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
 

Her mother, above all, found this very difficult to bear. She would have to care for her daughter for as long as she lived. Her daughter would never be able to take on the role of housewife and mother and, at the time, it seemed as though she had absolutely no prospects for the future.
 

The apparently helpless Margarete had other ideas, however, and was full of the joys of life. She radiated a positive aura and her convivial, cheerful nature made her very popular.

Margarete Steiff's birthplace in Ledergasse before it was converted
She always wanted to be involved in whatever was going on out of doors, regardless of the weather, and was always asking the members of her household and friends to carry her outside - even during the winter months.

In spite of this, she still spent long intervals during the winter with her grandparents and various neighbors.

When Margarete was due to start school, the problem of organization reared its head initially, as it did on so many occasions. But everything worked out fine: she was accompanied by the neighbors' children and her sisters, and a lady who lived near to the school carried her up the steps.

She enjoyed school very much and her work soon proved to be above-average.
The schoolhouse in the church square. The building has been preserved virtually as it was. This is where Margarete Steiff went to elementary school.
She spent her free time playing with the other children whenever possible. Margarete was a creative inventor of new games. She was always having new ideas and organized the games in such a way that she could take part.

In doing this, one of her natural gifts became evident, one that was to help her a great deal in the years to come: Margarete had a way of telling people what had to be done in a manner that made them want to do what she said.

Two pages from Margarete Steiff's diary. This diary contains valuable information about the time when the events took place as remembered and written down by Margarete before she died.
This is one of the exhibits on show at our Margarete Steiff Museum.   
Margarete looked after young children while their mothers were working. She loved closeness and little ones and also noted the following aspect of this in her daily reminiscences:

"It was also an important duty for me as I did not have to crochet at the same time, because I was usually required to do such and such amount."

This statement certainly gives the impression that Margarete's mother didn't spoil her.

 
 
Overcoming limitations: 1856 - 1877
Margarete was strictly kept at home, which is the reason why she particularly enjoyed the summer of 1856. She was staying in Ludwigsburg with the family of Dr. Werner, a pediatrician, and had a great deal more freedom of movement there. She was completely integrated into the family, had lessons and didn't suffer from homesickness at all.

Following an unsuccessful operation on her legs, Margarete went to a health resort in Wildbad. She enjoyed the health cure tremendously and matured in mind and soul, but her physical condition did not improve. She traveled backwards and forwards between Ludwigsburg and Wildbad, finally returning to Giengen in the November of 1856.

Margarete had a lot to catch up on at school after her summer absence but, being a cheerful and ambitious person, she soon brought herself up to the required level.


Margarete's zither
The next thing that Margarete wanted to do was to attend a sewing school. Her father objected to this initially, wishing to prevent her from being disappointed if she was unsuccessful. She asserted herself, though, and showed her parents once again that they had underestimated her.

Although she took much longer to get the work done and frequently had to ask her sisters to help her, she became a perfect seamstress after a few years.

 
Margarete was always trying to overcome her limitations. She was also up to learning to play the zither. Eventually, she could play so well that she was able to give lessons herself.

Margarete spent some of her time staying with other families while sewing dowry articles. Her aunt, Appolonia Hähnle, was the first person for whom she did this and she later worked for town clergyman Gross. She enjoyed it there.

When she was around 17 years old, Margarete realized that she was never going to be healed. She knew that she was going to have to come to terms with her illness in order to find peace of mind and her real way in life.

Margarete's father, Friedrich Steiff, modified his house in 1874 and, among other things, converted a study on the first floor into a dressmaker's workshop.

 
Together with her sisters, Marie and Pauline, she began to perform sewing work at home. The workshop became well known and the girls were the first people in Giengen to buy their own sewing machine.

Margarete was unable to turn the wheel with her right hand, so the machine was turned round: she used her left hand to drive the machine and guided the fabric with her right hand.

The list of customers grew longer and longer. Although Margarete also made up-to-date dresses, she much preferred sewing clothes for children. Pauline married in 1870, followed by Marie in 1873. Margarete started traveling around the country in the summer of that year, always staying with friends or relatives. Her first journeys took her to Geislingen, Heidenheim and Gerstetten; later to Neckarsulm, Stuttgart, Hochberg, Ludwigsburg and Augsburg at greater intervals and, much later, to Hörbranz and Lindau.
A glimpse of the sewing room on the first floor of the house in Ledergasse, where Margarete was born.
She commented on her wanderlust with a German proverb:
"Der Mensch treibt just das am liebsten, wozu er am wenigsten Beruf hat"
[man most enjoys doing exactly what he is least suited for]

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