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40- Billy Possum

It’s totally unfair. Hydrox cookies came out four years before the introduction of Oreos, but Hydrox could never shake the image that it was a cheap knock-off, an also-ran. As a consumer product, it’s completely out of your hands if you’re deemed a mighty Transformer, or a loathsome Gobot. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense at all. But sometimes it does. This is the tale of two toys with two very different fates. The Teddy Bear, named after the charismatic president Theodore Roosevelt, was a sensation in the early twentieth century. It even displaced baby dolls as the top toy in all of the United States, but no one thought it would last.The burgeoning mass-market toy industry thought the bear was a novelty that would die out once Teddy Roosevelt left office in 1909. So the powers that be went on the search for the next cuddly companion that America’s children would adore. It was completely logical that they looked at the next president for inspiration, Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. In 1909, the toy makers of America placed their bets on the Taft presidency’s answer to the Teddy Bear: the Billy Possum. This story comes to us from the insanely talented Jon Mooallem. He first presented a version of this story at Pop-Up Magazine #5 in San Francisco. Mooallem’s latest story for the New York Times Magazine is about the heroics of the Turtle People during the Gulf oil spill. He’s currently working on a book about people and animals for Penguin Press. He’s my favorite person to follow on twitter (@jmooallem) because he regularly posts strange animal facts that he comes across in his research.

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