History Of Winnie The Pooh Bear

Learn the history of Winnie the Pooh bear. The background of this beloved character

The ever adorable image of a yellow colored bear in a red T-shirt is a recognizable visual world wide. It's stocked on toy store shelves. It adorns the pages of countless books. It can be viewed on the Disney channel. It's even been printed onto nursery accessories. So well-loved is the modern image of Winnie the Pooh that it's become a marketing giant. But what of Winnie's history? Where did he come from? Was he ever fact before fiction?

Winnie did begin as fact, indeed.

During World War I, troops were being moved across country from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) and heading east for European shores. On one such train ride in 1914, and at a layover in White River, Ontario, a lieutenant by the name of Harry Colebourn purchased an orphaned black American bear cub for $20 from a trapper who had killed its mother. Colebourn named the bear "Winnipeg" after his hometown.

Winnipeg quickly earned the affection of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade and traveled on to England with them as their mascot. However, after the troops were assigned duty in France, it was clear that he wouldn't be able to accompany them any further. Colebourn, who had been advanced to the rank of Captain, took Winnipeg to the London Zoological Gardens for what was supposed to be a temporary, if long loan. Colebourn formally presented the London Zoo with Winnie in 1919 on his return, after noting the bear's growth and the staff's attachment to "Winnie". Winnie was a popular attraction until his demise on May 12th, 1934. It was during Winnie's stay in the London Zoo that he became a part of legendary fiction.

In 1924, on an excursion to the London Zoo with neighbor children, Christopher Robin Milne, son of author A.A.Milne, was introduced to Winnie for the first time. There are conflicting stories as to whether Christopher was frightened to the point of tears when he initially saw the ten-year old bear in the polar bear house or whether he immediately took to Winnie. Despite any fear that might have existed, Christopher was able to overcome it and was known to spend time with Winnie inside the bear cage. On one incident in which he was photographed feeding Winnie milk, A.A.Milne can be spotted in the background behind the bars.

Christopher's visits to the London Zoo to be in the company of Winnie spawned a literary journal by his father. The child had grown to care about the bear so much that he began referring to his teddy bear at home as "Winnie...Winnie the Pooh". (Originally, the name "Pooh" had belonged to a swan that can be seen in the introduction of Milne's 'When We Were Very Young'.) So, it wasn't long before Milne was inspired to maintain a journal of stories about Winnie the Pooh. The journal entries included all the familiar characters such as Eyeore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo and were based on the stuffed animals of Christopher's as well as Owl and Rabbit who, like the swan, were live animals on and around Milne's country estate, Crotchford Farm in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England. (The 100-Acres-Wood from the books.)

Before the first Winnie the Pooh book went to publication, thoughts on having the book illustrated was bandied about. Ernest Shepard, a young illustrator, was so determined to draw for Milne's story that he went down to Crotchford Farm and spent several hours sketching. After he was satisfied, he decided to call on Milne uninvited and show the author what he'd been able to come up with. Milne hestitantly showed the young illustrator in and reviewed his portfolio. Milne liked what he saw and immediately hired Shepard to do the illustrations. However, two weeks later, he had a few doubts about being so hasty in his decision, but luckily for Pooh fans, he was reassured by close friends.

Milne gathered his entries together to produce three consecutive Winnie the Pooh books in collaboration with Shepard. 'Winnie the Pooh' went into print on October 14th, 1926 while 'Now We Are Six' followed in 1927 and 'The House on Pooh Corner' was published in 1928. The Pooh books along with Milne's 'When We Were Very Young' have sold millions of copies, have been translated into nearly every language, and have become a household favorite with the young and old alike all over the world.

Among the readers who counted the Pooh stories as favorites were the children of the famed animator, Walt Disney. Disney, prompted by his children's love for the stories, first launched Pooh into film in 1966. 'The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh' was the first full-length animated film produced by Disney on Winnie the Pooh and audiences were able to view it in 1977. A re-release went out in 1996 and Disney officials reported that Winnie the Pooh had surpassed the popularity of all other Disney characters save for Mickey Mouse. Twenty years after the first Pooh movie, in 1997, Disney added 'Pooh's Grand Adventure' and followed that up three years later with 'The Tigger Movie' in 2000 with Tigger playing the star role. Recently, Disney has also created a series called 'The Book of Pooh' for the Disney channel that hosts all the beloved modern characters in puppet form as well an animated cartoon Pooh series.

Winnie has seen many changes over the years, beginning with a bear in the London Zoo to the imaginations of a boy and his father and onto the major star power he is today. Whether you're a fan of the original Shepard-drawn versions, Disney's creation, both, or merely curious as to Winnie's origin, you can now say with all certainty you know where Winnie came from.

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