Monday, September 25, 2017

The Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum: The Bedtime Story-Books Hardcover – 1920 by Thornton W. Burgess (Author), Harrison Cady (Illustrator)( Little, Brown, and Company (1926 printing edition (1920)); The Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum (Dover Children's Thrift Classics) Paperback – November 4, 2003 by Thornton W. Burgess (Dover Publications)(#IBRChildrensBooks)


In these nature tales with moral values, the animals speak to each other and have human-like traits, such as greed, selfishness, and bad tempers, that get them into all sorts of trouble. Children learn a little bit about animals and birds of the forest through their inter-relationships with Unc' Billy Possum. Each chapter is just the right length for a bedtime story. There is gentle suspense, but no death or violence, as you wonder how Unc' Billy Possum will escape from trouble this time! Very few typos. No illustrations encourage children to close their eyes and use their own imaginations.

Billy Possum, the Rival of the Teddy Bear

The origins of the Teddy-Taft rivalry?

Teddy bears are immensely popular around the world, and most people know that their origin story occurred when President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a bear cub when he was on a hunting trip. Teddy bears have been a huge success in the decades since, and November 14th is even American Teddy Bear Day. Teddy bears continued to dominate the plush toy industry, comprising about 70% of the sales of stuffed animals.

However, in Teddy’s time, many marketers believed that his bears would barely outlast his presidency. Roosevelt was succeeded by his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, and stuffed animal designers were ready to put all of their eggs in Taft’s basket.

Roosevelt remains known as a great conservationist, and it was fitting that his stuffed animal draw on his background as a lover of animals. Similarly, one of Taft’s biggest legacies was his stature. The myth persists to this day that he got stuck in a bathtub while serving as president, although this legend doesn’t hold water.

One night, Taft was eating dinner in Atlanta. At his insistence, the main course was “possum and taters,” which was a plate of sweet potatoes topped by a whole cooked possum. Taft gobbled it all up and was additionally presented with a stuffed possum that was called “Billy Possum,” which he did not consume. After this dinner, restaurants around the country began to serve possum meat, and its price skyrocketed for a short period of time. People even began to send Taft possums in the mail, and one brave possum even tried to break into the 

White House!The Billy Possum. Image via Mental Floss.

A few years after this dinner, the relationship between Taft and Roosevelt would sour to the point where Teddy ran for president once again so he could challenge his one-time heir apparent. Perhaps the seeds of that enmity were planted with the Billy Possum campaign, which was explicitly designed to knock the teddy bear off the shelf, in what might have been a proxy campaign for the one the two men would themselves be waging a few years later. The slogan of Billy Possum was “Good-bye, Teddy Bear. Hello, Billy Possum.” Billy Possum was soon joined on the market by Jimmie Possum, named for Taft’s Vice President, James Sherman.The origins of the Teddy-Taft rivalry? Image via 99% Invisible.

Pop culture made the most of the Teddy-Billy rivalry, and songs were even written that took sides in the commercial feud:

Ole Teddy Bar’s a dead one now

Sence Bill Possum’s come to town.

An’it taint no use to make excuse

Or raise a fuus an’frown. Jes get in touch wit’de President

Eat possum when you dine.

Den ask a Job of de Government

An’ you’ll cert’ly be in line

The campaign between Teddy and Billy got so fierce that some illustrators portrayed Billy as feasting on poor Teddy. Image via Anderson Americana.

However, within a year the Billy Possum had flopped and the Teddy bear’s supremacy was never doubted. One of the key reasons was the imagery that the teddy bear evoked was far more inspiring than the one Billy Possum brought to mind. A merciful Teddy Roosevelt was simply a better story than a gluttonous William Howard Taft, and the rest is history.

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