The largest teddy bear factory in America can be found in Shelburne, Vermont, just south of Burlington. At Vermont Teddy Bear Company, students will enjoy learning about the history of this iconic cuddly companion and the assembly process.
“Students are guided through their visit by a ‘Koala-fied’ Bear Ambassador,” said Shavon Houk, of the factory tour team. “Guides are excited to share their love of bears and explain the creative process in action.”
According to bear lore, the toy’s name is connected to President Theodore Roosevelt. The president was on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902. He chose not to fire at a cornered bear. A cartoonist later poked fun at the president. A toymaker decided to honor Roosevelt instead by creating a stuffed animal called “Teddy’s Bear.” The toys grew in popularity and are now a timeless tradition.
Students learning about concepts like the assembly line or the value of machine-driven and manual processes will be able to link their visit to lessons in class as they see those steps in action on the factory floor.
The tour begins at the press where a die-cut creates each of the 20 pieces that make up an individual Vermont Teddy Bear. Next up are the Sewing Room and the Stuffing House. “The parts of the bear are individually stuffed, and students are interested to learn that the stuffing is made of a specially recycled plastic,” Houk said.
The next phase is the Pin and Assembly station. The bears’ joints are made with hinges which allow their arms and legs to be apposable. A custom machine attaches the joints, and each bear is finally stitched by hand.
Every year, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory designs a series of specialty and collectible bears. Students can appreciate the artistry as they explore a gallery of unique bears like the Limited Edition Christmas bears with their costumes and handcrafted accessories. Bears dressed as iconic figures like Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or Ruth Bader Ginsberg also delight visitors.
Vermont Teddy Bears and animals are designed to be loved for generations. If something severe happens, bears—and other creatures—can be sent to the factory’s Bear Doctor for repair. “Everyone’s favorite part of the tour is the Bear Hospital,” Houk said. The creative scene includes bears recovering from surgery with an IV of honey while sitting propped up in hospital beds.
After the tour, the Bear Shop offers plenty of souvenirs. With bears dressed in humorous costumes representing different holidays, occupations, and life moments, there is something for “every-bear-dy!” Visitors can also make their own Bear Best Friend. “A Design Your Own station lets students mix and match different pieces to create their own one-of-a-kind bear,” Houk said.
Students will be “beary” excited to explore what it means to be “Made in Vermont” on Burlington-bound itineraries.
Article by Michael McLaughlin
Main photo: Pin & Assembly and Sewing stations; Credit: Vermont Teddy Bear Company