Clothes and felt animals: 1877 - 1894
Margarete was still working in her parents' house. At the instigation of Adolf Glatz - a manufacturer at the local felt factory who married into the family - she set up a felt business and took on her first assistants.
Wilhelm Adolf Glatz (1841-1916)
Wool felt manufacturing in Giengen around 1866
Wilhelm Adolf Glatz (1841-1916), a titled distinguished businessman, originally worked in the Völter paper factory in Gerschweiler and married one of the sisters of felt manufacturer Hans Hähnle in 1871. Adolf Glatz helped Margarete Steiff in both word and deed and encouraged her to set up her own business.

He supported Margarete, financially as well, of course, as much as he could for several years. Felt was transformed into ladies petticoats (for Ch. Siegle in Stuttgart and the retail trade) and children's coats.

The sales figures increased continuously and the sewing workshop turned into a little factory.

 
Over the years, Margarete's brother, Fritz, became father to six sons, with whom Margarete shared very close relationships. They often visited her at home and in the workshop.

Margarete radiated tremendous optimism and affection for people. She had a very special way of dealing with children, watching them carefully and responding tactfully and with humour.

The six sons of Margarete's brother Fritz, five of whom joined the company as adults.
This tact and sensitivity also manifested themselves in the atmosphere that prevailed in the workshop. There was no feeling of boss and employees - Margarete was interested in the fates of every one of her seamstresses and helped where she could.
Model and pattern for the little elephant "Elefäntle"
In 1880, she discovered the model of a felt elephant in a fashion magazine and decided to make eight of these little elephants as pincushions for Christmas presents. The elephants were very pretty and were received with great enthusiasm.

The children used them as draught animals, hitching them up to their toy carriage, loaded them up as pack animals and played with them in every way imaginable.

 

Soon after Christmas, people started asking for the felt elephants in the workshop. From this time onward, elephants were made and kept in stock when the demand for dresses left sufficient time. Fritz came up with the idea of selling the elephants at the market in Heidenheim and Margarete and her staff filled two sacks with the little animals.

Cat No. 90 and Pig No. 113 from the first Steiff Catalogue in 1892.
The idea was a tremendous success - the felt elephants were soon sold out. Soft toy animals were completely new at that time.

Margarete was asked to design other animals and created a kitten, lifelike dogs and a pink-colored pig.

The workshop became a "factory for felt articles and toys".

Fritz continued to be the one who keeps inspiring his occasionally hesitant sister to work towards new objectives. He arranged for her articles to be put on exhibition in a display of export samples in Stuttgart in 1883. Every year saw an increase in the sales figures and expansion of the collection.

Margarete invested 1,460 marks for felt in 1886, increasing to 3,700 marks in 1888 and as much as 5,070 marks in 1890.

Fritz took over his father's building firm in 1888. He was a well-respected man in Giengen and it wasn't long before he also persuaded Margarete to move her business out of the cramped rooms in her parents' house.

He built a house with business premises in the Mühlstrasse - completely oriented to Margarete's requirements.

This picture of Giengen shows the Steiff house in the middle, with its bay window and the lettering "Filz-Spielwaren-Fabrik" [felt toy factory].
The living accommodation was upstairs, with a large bay window that allowed Margarete to see what was going on outside.

Felt and toys were sold in the corner shop on the ground floor with its two display windows.

 
The firm continued its positive development during the years that followed. The first illustrated catalogue was printed in 1892. By this time, the collection included monkeys, a donkey, a horse, a camel, a pig, a mouse, a dog, a cat, a rabbit and a giraffe, as well as elephants.

The workshop was entered in the commercial register as "Margarete Steiff, Filzwarenfabrik Giengen/Brenz" [Margarete Steiff, Felt goods factory Giengen/Brenz] on 3rd March 1893.

Margarete Steiff surrounded by her staff in front of the house in the Mühlstrasse.
Four ladies were employed on the premises and ten worked at home in 1893. The turnover for felt goods amounted to 12,000 marks with 28,000 marks for toys.

Margarete worked on her success with an iron will, but a warm-hearted atmosphere always prevailed in spite of this.

1894 saw Margarete being invited to St. Gallen by a major toy dealer. Shortly afterwards, orders started coming in from Berlin, Rothenburg and from abroad.

When her brother's six sons reached adulthood, Margarete asked them to join the company. Five of them were willing to do so and initially learned professions that suited their respective inclinations - designer, engineers and management experts. The foundation stone for a family concern was laid.

Upswing and Margarete's death: 1894 - 1909
The first representative began to present samples of Steiff products in 1894/95 - in addition to the goods produced by another company. The animals were also among those sold in Berlin businesses. Richard Steiff, Fritz's second-oldest son, joined the company in 1897.
He had always been close to Margarete, even as a child, and she also got along very well with Richard, the adult. He combined down-to-earth business acumen with a generous portion of creativity, he attended art school in Stuttgart and went on to college in England.
     
Accompanied by another member of staff, he initially represented the company during its first appearance at the Leipzig trade fair.

The turnover at that time amounted to 90,000 marks.

Steiff advertising on the balcony of the central trade fair palace in Leipzig.
His brothers, Franz, Otto, Hugo and Paul, then joined the company, one after the other, responsible for purchasing and sales, advertising, improving the production process and the manufacturing technology.

Margarete still kept track of the operation as a whole.

 
Margarete left nothing to chance, reviewed work routines and motivated the staff by her presence and personal dedication.

Margarete was also very critical, however, which meant that a lot of items had to be retouched or reworked.
Margarete Steiff at her workplace - she made most of the prototypes herself.
She didn't regard the animals on their own, but always saw them in the arms of children and therefore imposed the most stringent requirements on the quality of the products.

Her motto was always "The best is just good enough for our children".
 


 
Correspondingly, only materials of the very best quality were used. The animals were initially stuffed with sheep's wool, which was replaced by wood shavings in the 1890s.

The catalogue of the time refers to the filling material as "light, soft and pure" (no sawdust, animal hair or cork waste).
The soft toys were launched onto the markets, in Europe to start with, soon followed by America.

Following the death of Fritz (1900), Margarete primarily drew the strength for her work from the close family relationship between her and her nephews. Richard, in particular, introduced many new ideas and was very involved in expanding the product range. Margarete made most of the first models herself..

Spitz 5322, 1906, Polar bear 8314, 1909
Duck on cast-iron wheels 525-2, 1898
The factory building built in 1903 had a ramp for easy access in a wheelchair.
Building work started on a new factory hall in 1903: a two-storey building made of concrete and glass with an access ramp to the upper floor.
Margarete was driven to the factory every day. She checked the models, the inner frames, the colors - applied to the finished fur with a spray gun. She went to see the people who made the voices, stuffed the animals and stitched the embroidery.
In 1902, Richard Steiff developed a new type of soft toy: with jointed arms and legs, proper fur made of mohair plush and glass eyes.

Margarete was rather skeptical as to whether the market would accept these relatively expensive animals that she felt were rather ungainly.

There was an enormous risk attached to this decision, as the financial strength of the company would be jeopardized if the idea turned out to be a flop.
Bear PB became a smash hit worldwide as the Teddy bear.
In spite of her reservations, she allowed herself to be persuaded by Richard's arguments - without success initially. They were being packed away again at the end of the Leipzig trade fair when an American bought all 3,000 of them at the very last minute.

Bear PB became a smash hit at the World Exhibition in St. Louis. 12,000 bears were sold, Margarete and Richard each received a gold medal and the Grand Prix - the highest prize possible - was awarded to the company.
Bear "PB", 1904, and the Richard Steiff Teddy bear, 1905
The production volume increased to 1.7 million toy animals between 1903 and 1907. There were 400 people working on the premises, another 1,800 women were employed as home workers. The jointed bear set off on his march of conquest in America. And he owed his later name "Teddy bear" (since 1906) to none other than President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.


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Increasing competitive pressure soon necessitated the implementation of new measures. Nobody wanted to become involved in a price war and the family started looking for a way of making the animals unmistakable.

Franz Steiff came up with the idea of riveting a button to one ear of each animal. The "Button in Ear" was born - the trademark of a real Steiff animal right through to today.
Franz Steiff
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Trade mark dating back to 1897/98
"Button in Ear" from 1904
The American economy came under pressure in 1908 - with serious consequences for the company: orders were cancelled, large quantities of finished bears were turned away.

Margarete went through the upswing and the crisis full of activity. She was growing noticeably weary, though, and could often be seen sitting at her window, watching the comings and goings in the company from there. She seemed to know that her life was coming to an end.
Margarete Steiff - successful in spite of her disability
Commemorative plaque for Margarete Steiff in front of the company's factory gate.
Margarete Steiff was just 61 years old when she died on 9th April 1909. What had originally seemed to be a hopeless life became a shining example of what can be achieved with courage, strength, heart and willpower.

Her family, the staff and the people of Giengen found it difficult to get over her death.
But the company continued to be run in her spirit - right
through to today.