The Vault

When A President Was An Action Figure

The Vault is Slate’s new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

After Teddy Roosevelt left office in 1909, he was only 50 years old, and had by no means come to terms with the idea of a comfortable retirement. Vladimir Putin’s chest-baring antics seem amusing to us now, but the “Rough Rider” who made physical daring a part of his political image could probably have matched him feat for public feat.

In March 1909, immediately after turning the Presidency over to William Howard Taft, TR embarked on a trip to Africa, touring British East Africa, the Belgian Congo, and Sudan in search of specimens for the Smithsonian. Americans followed the trip avidly, and a 1910 silent film of the trip spawned a flurry of imitators.

Not to be left behind, the A. Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia rushed this toy set into production for Christmas 1909. The Strong National Museum of Play holds this particular set, which features figures representing Teddy and his fellow explorers, their African porters, and various African animals, as well as props such as camp furniture and a painted backdrop to help children stage authentic scenarios.

Teddy and his expedition shot, killed, and collected an astounding number of animals: they brought back 5,013 mammals, 4,453 birds, and 2,322 reptiles and amphibians. You can still see one of TR’s elephants on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Teddy Roosevelt action figure set

The Strong National Museum of Play. Online Collections. 78.3460: Teddy’s Adventures in Africa | Teddy’s First Encounter with the Wild Animals | figure set