Gar Wood, the first man to travel over 100 mph on the water, was born Garfield Arthur Wood in 1880 and named after the successful presidential ticket of James Garfield and Chester Arthur. James Garfield was considered the last “log cabin” president and a rags-to-riches hero. Before Gar Wood was 40, he had become better known than his namesakes were. Wood became a Horatio Alger multi-millionaire through his various enterprises including G.A. Wood Company, a shop where he would build or fix anything, and the Detroit Marine–Aero Engine Company that for 20 years converted thousands of surplus WW I liberty engines into famous marine power plants. What brought Gar Wood tremendous wealth, however, was the development and patent of a hydraulic device that would lift the dump bed of a coal delivery truck. At one point, he held the most U.S. patents than any other living American. His wealth allowed him to pursue his interest in speedboat racing.
Early in Gar’s racing career, his wife Murlen bought two small teddy bears for her niece when Gar scooped them up for himself. Little Leading Lady was Gar Wood’s first speedboat and the first boat to carry his mascot teddy bears Teddy and Bruin in 1914. The mascots accompanied Gar and his mechanic Orlin Johnson throughout their racing careers and for Gar Wood, to the end of his life in 1971. Murlen made outfits for the bears for any occasion: life jackets, rain gear, and even formal wear (tuxedos & top hats).
Teddy and Bruin’s lives as mascots was not without incident, however. In 1928 during a trial for the Harmsworth Trophy, Wood’s Miss America VI‘s hull splintered and broke up. Wood was thrown clear, Orlin Johnson had his throat cut and the boat sank with Teddy and Bruin. Divers recovered the wreckage and engines but the bears were missing. Construction of a new hull began immediately. The New York Times reported, “ Hope for recovery of the mascots as held out by Mr. Wood today because, he said, they had been tied to the instrument board of Miss America VI.” Seventeen days later, Johnson joined Wood in Miss America VII and the recovered bears to win the race and retain the Harmsworth Cup.
Pictured here is Wood’s son Gar Wood Jr. on a beach in Miami holding Teddy and Bruin in 1920. Gar Wood Jr. went on to race small outboards as a youth with his first race in 1929 at the age of 11.