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Winnie-the-Pooh

The origins of a honey loving bear... 

A.A Milne and his wife Daphne and their young son, Christopher Robin, lived in Chelsea, London. Not too far from their home, was London Zoo. On a number of occasions in the early 1920s, they visited the zoo and encountered a Black Bear called Winnipeg. 

Winnipeg had been given to London Zoo in December 1914 by a soldier called Sgt Harry Colebourn who was serving with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. Colebourn had bought this orphaned bear cub at a station in White River, Canada. He decided to name the bear cub after his adoptive home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Colebourne took Winnipeg, otherwise called Winnie, on his journey across Canada to Valcartier, Quebec. From here the soldier and the bear cub travelled across the Atlantic to Salisbury Plains, England where Colebourn was due to be sent to serve on the frontline in France. However, he was unable to take Winnie with him to France so he decided to leave her at London Zoo. 

Winnipeg, who was a very tame bear, had a good life at the zoo and after the war ended, Colebourn decided to leave Winnie unable the capable care of the zoo. And some years later, a young boy by the name of Christopher took a shine to this particular bear, and decided to name his own teddy bear ‘Winnie’… 

Watching the young Christopher play with his teddy bear (along with a toy donkey, piglet, tiger and kangaroo,) inspired A.A. Milne to pen stories about a boy exploring and growing up with his animal friends.  

Christopher Robin's teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh in New York Public Library
Christopher Robin's teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh in New York Public Library
Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, 1966
Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, 1966

Pooh-larity

A.A. Milne's books about Winnie-the-Pooh were very successful, but the honey loving bear took on a new level of fame when Walt Disney acquired the rights to the stories in 1961. Walt Disney had been trying for nearly 30 years to acquire the rights to the books, as his eldest daughter loved reading Milne's stories as a child.

The first film 'Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree',, a theatrical short, was released in 1964. It was soon followed by two more short films, 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' in 1968 and 'Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too' in 1974. Alongside the films, Disney produced a whole range of merchandise, from soft toys, vinyl records, games and books, bringing Winnie-the-Pooh into popular culture.