Hermann-Spielwaren Bears: 100 Years of Family Tradition

(This article first appeared in Teddy Bear & Friends magazine)

Hermann-Spielwaren commemorated the 2012 Diamond Jubilee of England’s Queen Elizabeth with this bear.

Germany had a stellar reputation during the late 1800s and early 1900s for well-made, durable toys. So it’s no surprise that when the Teddy bear emerged on the toy scene, buyers from American department stores flooded the town of Sonneberg, known as the Toy Capital of the World, clamoring for more Teddy bears to compete on this new toy front.

So it was that siblings Arthur, Max and Adelheid Hermann decided to try constructing a soft toy bear Oct. 24, 1913. Their father, Johann, was a respected maker of wooden toy fiddles. The proud papa of six children, Johann Hermann was helped in his workshop by all members of his family.

But it was the innovative trio of Arthur, Max and Adelheid who fashioned a new direction for the Hermann family. Their teddy bear was labeled “Johann Hermann Toy Factory—Specialty: Better Class Teddy Bears.”

After the first one was created, inspected, and deemed of high enough quality to carry the Hermann name, thousands more followed suit.

Now, 100 years after that first cuddly cub, the Hermann name continues to thrive in the world of teddy-bear design and manufacturing, along with other meticulously crafted and lovingly rendered animals of all kinds.

Still a family-run and supervised business, the company is headed by Martin J. Hermann and his sister, Dr. Ursula Hermann, the grandchildren of Max Hermann. They’re the co-owners and co-presidents of Hermann-Spielwaren GmbH, but the siblings tackle different areas of the business.

According to Martin Hermann, his sister “is the heart of the company. She makes all the designs. She has won all the important teddy-bear awards worldwide and is one of the best bear designers in the world. She started directly in the company right after university, and she was trained by my mother, who had made all the designs until her death. Ursula is also in charge of manufacturing and human resources.”

While Ursula is the creative driving force, Martin handles the day-to-day operations with finances, marketing, sales and buying. He said he was trained for that position since his early days scampering around the factory floor.

“I grew up in the company. It’s true,” he said. “I played in the company. Since I was able to think, the company and the items have been a part of my life. Each bear or bunny or lion that we produce brings a little bit of us and our workers into the collector’s home. This company is our passion.”

The deep connection to the Hermann family’s legacy is part of Martin and Ursula’s DNA, but they also find the same level of loyalty among their staff, Martin said.

“A company like ours is not a CEO and some products,” he explained. “A company like ours reflects the people who work in it each and every day and who bring a part of their own personal feelings to the collectors. Nearly all of our workers have worked for [more than] 10 years with us, and some of them have been here for [more than] 30 years. This is what we call the spirit of Hermann. Our workers normally continue to labor here until they retire.”

Hermann-Spielwaren employs skilled, professional toy makers, Martin said, adding that “the serious collector sees the work we are doing and realizes we are always trying to be in the top range. Our collectors can visit us and see how our bears and other animals are made, and they can even talk personally to the workers. This happens during the Week of the Open Door each year. Our collectors can see for themselves that each dollar they spend is worth it.”

Today, neither Martin nor Ursula has any children, but the Hermann family is filled with other relatives who are excited and encouraged to continue the tradition. “We hope they will bring it into the next 100 years,” Martin said.

Hermann-Spielwaren, based in Coburg, Germany, has endured many trials that would have shuttered a less resilient corporation. However, the descendants of Johann Hermann always focused on creating high-quality wares in the family tradition.

After World War II, when the country was divided between East and West Germany, Martin and Ursula Hermann’s grandparents saw that the new East Germany would not be a receptive place for carrying on their business. Fleeing the Communist regime, Max Hermann—one of the family’s original teddy bear pioneers—packed up his wife and children and crossed the border to freedom. They set up a new workshop in Coburg, in Bavaria, and began to make bears and other toys once more.

“They could not take any of their assets with them,” Martin said. “They had to leave all of their tangible goods behind. What they could bring along with them was their renowned name, which was known internationally, and the knowledge of how to make good teddy bears.”

When a business has faced so many obstacles and has stared all of them down to survive, it is no wonder that these present-day heirs are so committed to seeing it continue to thrive and grow.

Stephanie Finnegan is a writer and editor who specializes in the collectibles field. She is a columnist for several hobby and crafts magazines, as well as the author of books that profile artists and their legacies.

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