Billy Possum

Billy Possum

You may already have heard the inception myth of the teddy bear. Teddy Roosevelt, the definitive POTUS and all round man’s man, out on one of his regular hunting trips, refuses to kill a female bear as it has a young cub. A political cartoonist uses the story to illustrate Roosevelt’s humanity and sense of moral duty to protect lesser beings, two companies start making toy bears based on said cartoon, then for some reason this fad turns out to be the one in a thousand that becomes a permanent fixture. It doesn’t particularly matter that most of the story is probably not true, or that the bear was, in fact, killed, by 1909 the teddy bear is already embedded in popular consciousness, The Teddy Bear’s Picnic is one of the most-played bits of sheet music (though it – bizarrely – doesn’t have lyrics yet) and toymakers worldwide are producing masses of different stuffed toy animals, hoping to catch the next craze before everyone else.

Into this world let’s bring our new president – the portly mustachioed figure of William Howard Taft, newly elected President of The USA, who wanted a bit of that teddy bear action. From an article on the generally excellent Mentalfloss:

In January 1909, the president-elect was honored at a banquet in Atlanta. At Taft’s request, the main course was “possum and taters”—a toasty pile of sweet potatoes topped with an 18-pound whole cooked opossum. (Taft gobbled up the roasted marsupial so quickly that a nearby doctor advised him to slow down.) When Taft’s belly was stuffed, local boosters presented the president-to-be with a small plush opossum. The toy, they told Taft, was destined to be the next big thing—it was going to replace the teddy bear. They dubbed it “Billy Possum.”

To find out what happened to the billy possum, and why it never took off, take a look at the full post or listen to the story on the 99% Invisible podcast.

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