Margarete Steiff: A Unique Female Entrepeneur in the 19th Century
Margarate Steiff was one of a kind. Diagnosed with polio at the age of two, she never lost her courage to face life. The founder of the Steiff company showed real entrepeneurial spirit when it came to market stuffed toys and to give young women an opportunity to work in her factory. Even though her life seemed almost hopeless in the early years, Margarete Steiff achieved everything (what is today the worldwide famous Steiff GmbH) with courage, strength, heart and will. Ten facts about the inpirational Margarete Steiff:
- Margarete Steiff was born on July 24, 1847, in Giengen, Germany. At the age of almost two, the daughter of a bricklayer suffered from polio which caused her right arm and both legs to be paralyzed. Due to that, Margarete Steiff was bound to a wheelchair throughout her whole life. Still, she was a real fighter and drove to school every day on a ladder trolley with the help of her siblings and friends.
- She was a good student in school and had the great ability to be able to tell her fellow human beings in a very motivating way what needs to be done. This could also be seen in her later workshop. Margarete emitted a lot of optimism and affection for people, especially her (many female) employees. She was said to have been also able to create a very special bond with kids. The power woman only wanted the best for them and therefore always set very high standards for the stuffed animals.
- Her parents were aware that a paralyzed girl will have it difficult finding a match to marry. They focused on Margarete’s career and arranged a sewing room in their own house for her and her two sisters. Later on, when her dad noticed that his daughter had a talent, he also bought her a sewing machine which was a pretty new innovation at that time. Margarete’s father built a new section in the house for an on workshop. Even when her two sisters Marie and Pauline left, Margarete continued the work.
- Even though her first famous stitched toy was a white elephant – which also let to the first big success of her own company – Margarete Steiff first focused on sewing clothes. The idea for the Steiff stuffed toys company came when she gave the white elephant to her nephews who really enjoyed playing with it. Even though the “Elefäntle” (Swabian way to pronounce “Elefant” in German) was considered to be a nail cushion, it becomes popular as a kids toy.
- Margarete’s uncle Adolf Glatz persuaded her to take the step into self-employment in 1877. A total of six nephews and nieces became part of her company in the following years.
- The famous “Knopf im Ohr” (Button in the ear) was created in 1904 to make the stuffed animals unmistakable. Only two years later in 1906, the Margarete Steiff GmbH was founded.
- Her nephew Richard, the oldest and most creative one, created the famous Steiff teddy bear with whom the big breakthrough came along. An American trader discovered the bear in 1902 and ordered 3000 pieces. The bear had unprecedented sales success in the US. In 1906, it was sold under the name “Teddy bear”, derived after the name of American President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.
- She had a passion for traveling. Even though Margarete was a very positive person, she had one big dream in her life: to be able to move around weightlessly. Margarete was also very musical and played the zither.
- She died on May 9, 1909, at the age of 61 due to pneumonia. Until today, the Steiff company is a family business. In 2016, Steiff reported a sales record of 110 million euros in 2015.
- In 2005, a tv film got released with Heike Makatsch as Margarete Steiff. The biographical movie was a tribute to the almost forgotten female entrepreneur.