History of Winnie the Pooh

Photograph of A.A. Milne with  a real life bear called Winnipeg

During the first World War, troops from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) were being transported to eastern Canada, on their way to Europe, where they were to join the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When the train stopped at White River, Ontario, a lieutenant called Harry Colebourn bought a small female black bear cub for $20 from a hunter who had killed its mother. He named her 'Winnipeg', after his hometown of Winnipeg, or 'Winnie' for short.

Winnie became the mascot of the Brigade and went to Britain with the unit. When the Brigade was posted to the battlefields of France, Colebourn, now a Captain, took Winnie to the London Zoo for a long loan. He formally presented the London Zoo with Winnie in December 1919 where he became a popular attraction and lived until 1934.

The bear was also very popular with Christopher Robin, son of author A.A. Milne. It was his favourite animal at the Zoo, and he often spent time inside the cage with it. The bear was Christopher Robin's inspiration for calling his own teddy bear Winnie... Winnie the Pooh (this teddy bear started out with the name of Edward Bear). The name Pooh originally belonged to a swan, as can be seen in the introduction of Milne's 'When We Were Very Young'.

Pooh meets Tigger outside his house

A.A. Milne started to write a series of books about Winnie the Pooh, his son Christopher Robin, and their friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. These other characters, such as Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Roo were also based on stuffed animals belonging to Christopher Robin. The characters, Rabbit and Owl, were based on animals that lived, like the swan Pooh, in the surrounding area of Milne's country home, Cotchford Farm in Ashdown Forest, Sussex. It is this area on which the 100-Acre-Wood was based.

'Winnie-the-Pooh' was published by Methuen on October 14th, 1926, the verses 'Now We are Six' in 1927, and 'The House at Pooh Corner' in 1928. All these books were illustrated in a beautiful way by E.H. Shepard, which made the books even more magical. The Pooh-books became firm favorites with old and young alike and have been translated into almost every known language. A conservative figure for the total sales of the four Methuen editions (including When We Were Very Young) up to the end of 1996 would be over 20 million copies. These figures do not include sales of the four books published by Dutton in Canada and the States, nor the foreign-language editions printed in more than 25 languages the world over!

The Pooh-books had also been favourites of Walt Disney's daughters and it inspired Disney to bring Pooh to film in 1966. In 1977 'the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh', the first feature-length animated film of Pooh was released. In 1993, the Walt Disney Company acknowledged that Pooh Bear is second only to Mickey Mouse in their portfolio of the most-loved and trusted characters known to millions of people all over the world. By 1996, after the second release of 'the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh', the Bear of Very Little Brain had proven to be more popular than any other Disney character. In 1997, twenty years after the release of the first feature-length animated film, Disney released 'Pooh's Grand Adventure', picking up where Disney's 22nd Masterpiece left off. In February 2000 Disney released the third Winnie the Pooh movie called 'The Tigger Movie', this time with the leading part for Tigger.