The first collection of stories about the character was the book Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), and this was followed by The House at Pooh Corner (1928). Milne also included a poem about the bear in the children's verse book When We Were Very Young (1924) and many more in Now We Are Six (1927). All four volumes were illustrated by E. H. Shepard.
The Pooh stories have been translated into many languages, including Alexander Lenard's Latin translation, Winnie ille Pu, which was first published in 1958, and, in 1960, became the only Latin book ever to have been featured on The New York Times Best Seller list.
A. A. Milne named the character Winnie-the-Pooh after a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was the basis for the character Christopher Robin. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne's toys – Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger – were incorporated into Milne's stories. Two more characters, Owl and Rabbit, were created by Milne's imagination, while Gopher was added to the Disney version. Christopher Robin's toy bear is on display at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.
Christopher Milne had named his toy bear after Winnie, a Canadian black bear he often saw at London Zoo, and "Pooh", a swan they had met while on holiday. The bear cub was purchased from a hunter for $20 by Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourn in White River, Ontario, Canada, while en route to England during the First World War. He named the bear "Winnie" after his adopted hometown in Winnipeg, Manitoba. "Winnie" was surreptitiously brought to England with her owner, and gained unofficial recognition as The Fort Garry Horse regimental mascot. Colebourn left Winnie at the London Zoo while he and his unit were in France; after the war she was officially donated to the zoo, as she had become a much loved attraction there. Pooh the swan appears as a character in its own right in When We Were Very Young.
In the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne offers this explanation of why Winnie-the-Pooh is often called simply "Pooh":
But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh.
The American writer William Safire surmised that the Milnes' invention of the name "Winnie the Pooh" may have also been influenced by the haughty character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (1885).
The Winnie-the-Pooh stories are set in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, England. The forest is a large area of tranquil open heathland on the highest sandy ridges of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty situated 30 miles (50 km) south of London. In 1925 Milne, a Londoner, bought a country home a mile to the north of the forest at Cotchford Farm, near Hartfield. According to Christopher Milne, while his father continued to live in London "...the four of us – he, his wife, his son and his son's nanny – would pile into a large blue, chauffeur-driven Fiat and travel down every Saturday morning and back again every Monday afternoon. And we would spend a whole glorious month there in the spring and two months in the summer." From the front lawn the family had a view across a meadow to a line of alders that fringed the River Medway, beyond which the ground rose through more trees until finally "above them, in the faraway distance, crowning the view, was a bare hilltop. In the centre of this hilltop was a clump of pines." Most of his father's visits to the forest at this time were, he noted, family expeditions on foot "to make yet another attempt to count the pine trees on Gill's Lap or to search for the marsh gentian". Christopher added that, inspired by Ashdown Forest, his father had made it "the setting for two of his books, finishing the second little over three years after his arrival".
Many locations in the stories can be linked to real places in and around the forest. As Christopher Milne wrote in his autobiography: "Pooh’s forest and Ashdown Forest are identical". For example, the fictional "Hundred Acre Wood" was in reality Five Hundred Acre Wood; Galleon's Leap was inspired by the prominent hilltop of Gill's Lap, while a clump of trees just north of Gill's Lap became Christopher Robin's The Enchanted Place because no-one had ever been able to count whether there were sixty-three or sixty-four trees in the circle.
The landscapes depicted in E. H. Shepard's illustrations for the Winnie-the-Pooh books were directly inspired by the distinctive landscape of Ashdown Forest, with its high, open heathlands of heather, gorse, bracken and silver birch punctuated by hilltop clumps of pine trees. Many of Shepard's illustrations can be matched to actual views, allowing for a degree of artistic licence. Shepard's sketches of pine trees and other forest scenes are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The game of Poohsticks was originally played by Christopher Milne on a footbridge across a tributary of the River Medway in Posingford Wood, close to Cotchford Farm. The wooden bridge is now a tourist attraction, and it has become traditional to play the game there using sticks gathered in nearby woodland. When the footbridge recently had to be replaced, the engineer designed a new structure based closely on the drawings of the bridge by Shepard in the books, which were somewhat different than the original structure.
Christopher Robin's teddy bear, Edward, made his character début in A. A. Milne's poem, "Teddy Bear", in the edition of 13 February 1924 of Punch, and the same poem was published in Milne's book of children's verse When We Were Very Young (6 November 1924). Winnie-the-Pooh first appeared by name on 24 December 1925, in a Christmas story commissioned and published by the London newspaper The Evening News. It was illustrated by J. H. Dowd.
The first collection of Pooh stories appeared in the book Winnie-the-Pooh. The Evening News Christmas story reappeared as the first chapter of the book. At the beginning, it explained that Pooh was in fact Christopher Robin's Edward Bear, who had been renamed by the boy. He was renamed after a black bear at London Zoo called Winnie who got her name from the fact that her owner had come from Winnipeg, Canada. The book was published in October 1926 by the publisher of Milne's earlier children's work, Methuen, in England, and E. P. Dutton in the United States.
In the Milne books, Pooh is naive and slow-witted, but he is also friendly, thoughtful, and steadfast. Although he and his friends agree that he "has no Brain", Pooh is occasionally acknowledged to have a clever idea, usually driven by common sense. These include riding in Christopher Robin's umbrella to rescue Piglet from a flood, discovering "the North Pole" by picking it up to help fish Roo out of the river, inventing the game of Poohsticks, and getting Eeyore out of the river by dropping a large rock on one side of him to wash him towards the bank.
Pooh is also a talented poet, and the stories are frequently punctuated by his poems and "hums." Although he is humble about his slow-wittedness, he is comfortable with his creative gifts. When Owl's house blows down in a storm, trapping Pooh and Piglet and Owl inside, Pooh encourages Piglet (the only one small enough to do so) to escape and rescue them all by promising that "a respectful Pooh song" will be written about Piglet's feat. Later, Pooh muses about the creative process as he composes the song.
Pooh is very fond of food, especially "hunny" but also condensed milk and other items. When he visits friends, his desire to be offered a snack is in conflict with the impoliteness of asking too directly. Though intending to give Eeyore a pot of honey for his birthday, Pooh cannot resist eating the honey on his way to deliver the present, and so instead gives Eeyore "a useful pot to put things in". When he and Piglet are lost in the forest during Rabbit's attempt to "unbounce" Tigger, Pooh finds his way home by following the "call" of the honeypots from his house. Pooh makes it a habit to have "a little something" around eleven o'clock in the morning. As the clock in his house "stopped at five minutes to eleven some weeks ago," any time can be Pooh's snack time.
Pooh is very social. After Christopher Robin, his closest friend is Piglet, and he most often chooses to spend his time with one or both of them. But he also habitually visits the other animals, often looking for a snack or an audience for his poetry as much as for companionship. His kind-heartedness means he goes out of his way to be friendly to Eeyore, visiting him and bringing him a birthday present and building him a house, despite receiving mostly disdain from Eeyore in return.
An authorised sequel Return to the Hundred Acre Wood was published on 5 October 2009. The author, David Benedictus, has developed, but not changed, Milne's characterisations. The illustrations, by Mark Burgess, are in the style of Shepard.
Another authorised sequel, The Best Bear in All the World, was published by Egmont in 2016. The sequel consists of four short stories by four leading children's authors, Kate Saunders, Brian Sibley, Paul Bright, and Jeanne Willis. Illustrations are by Mark Burgess. The Best Bear in All The World sees the introduction of a new character, a Penguin, which was inspired by a long-lost photograph of Milne and his son Christopher with a toy penguin. A further special story, Winnie-the-Pooh Meets the Queen, was published in 2016 to mark the 90th anniversary of Milne's creation and the 90th birthday of Elizabeth II. It sees Winnie the Pooh meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
On 6 January 1930, Stephen Slesinger purchased US and Canadian merchandising, television, recording and other trade rights to the "Winnie-the-Pooh" works from Milne for a $1000 advance and 66% of Slesinger's income, creating the modern licensing industry. By November 1931, Pooh was a $50 million-a-year business. Slesinger marketed Pooh and his friends for more than 30 years, creating the first Pooh doll, record, board game, puzzle, US radio broadcast (NBC), animation, and motion picture film.
The first time Pooh and his friends appeared in colour was 1932, when he was drawn by Slesinger in his now-familiar red shirt and featured on an RCA Victor picture record. Parker Brothers introduced A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh Game in 1933, again with Pooh in his red shirt. In the 1940s, Agnes Brush created the first plush dolls with Pooh in his red shirt. Shepard had drawn Pooh with a shirt as early as the first Winnie-The-Pooh book, which was subsequently coloured red in later coloured editions.
After Slesinger's death in 1953, his wife, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, continued developing the character herself. In 1961, she licensed rights to Walt Disney Productions in exchange for royalties in the first of two agreements between Stephen Slesinger, Inc. and Disney. The same year, A. A. Milne's widow, Daphne Milne, also licensed certain rights, including motion picture rights, to Disney.
Since 1966, Disney has released numerous animated productions starring Winnie the Pooh and related characters. These have included theatrical featurettes, television series, and direct-to-video films, as well as the theatrical feature-length films The Tigger Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, and Winnie the Pooh.
Pooh videos, soft toys, and other merchandise generate substantial annual revenues for Disney. The size of Pooh stuffed toys ranges from Beanie and miniature to human-sized. In addition to the stylised Disney Pooh, Disney markets Classic Pooh merchandise which more closely resembles E.H. Shepard's illustrations.
In 1991, Stephen Slesinger, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Disney which alleged that Disney had breached their 1983 agreement by again failing to accurately report revenue from Winnie the Pooh sales. Under this agreement, Disney was to retain approximately 98% of gross worldwide revenues while the remaining 2% was to be paid to Slesinger. In addition, the suit alleged that Disney had failed to pay required royalties on all commercial exploitation of the product name. Though the Disney corporation was sanctioned by a judge for destroying forty boxes of evidential documents, the suit was later terminated by another judge when it was discovered that Slesinger's investigator had rummaged through Disney's garbage to retrieve the discarded evidence. Slesinger appealed the termination and, on 26 September 2007, a three-judge panel upheld the lawsuit dismissal.
After the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, Clare Milne, Christopher Milne's daughter, attempted to terminate any future US copyrights for Stephen Slesinger, Inc. After a series of legal hearings, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the US District Court in California found in favour of Stephen Slesinger, Inc., as did the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On 26 June 2006, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, sustaining the ruling and ensuring the defeat of the suit.
On 19 February 2007 Disney lost a court case in Los Angeles which ruled their "misguided claims" to dispute the licensing agreements with Slesinger, Inc. were unjustified, but a federal ruling of 28 September 2009, again from Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, determined that the Slesinger family had granted all trademark and copyright rights to Disney, although Disney must pay royalties for all future use of the characters. Both parties have expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
Selected Pooh stories read by Maurice Evans released on vinyl LP:
In 1960 HMV recorded a dramatised version with songs (music by Harold Fraser-Simson) of two episodes from The House at Pooh Corner (Chapters 2 and 8), starring Ian Carmichael as Pooh, Denise Bryer as Christopher Robin (who also narrated), Hugh Lloyd as Tigger, Penny Morrell as Piglet, and Terry Norris as Eeyore. This was released on a 45 rpm EP.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Carol Channing recorded Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and The Winnie the Pooh Songbook, with music by Don Heckman. These were released on vinyl LP and audio cassette by Caedmon Records.
Unabridged recordings read by Peter Dennis of the four Pooh books:
In 1979 a double audio cassette set of "Winnie the Pooh" was produced featuring British actor Lionel Jeffries reading all characters in the stories. This was followed in 1981 by an audio cassette set of stories from "House at Pooh Corner" also read by Lionel Jeffries.
In the 1990s, the stories were dramatised for audio by David Benedictus, with music composed, directed and played by John Gould. They were performed by a cast that included Stephen Fry as Winnie-the-Pooh, Jane Horrocks as Piglet, Geoffrey Palmer as Eeyore, and Judi Dench as Kanga.
In the Soviet Union, three Winnie-the-Pooh, (transcribed in Russian as "Vinni Pukh") (Russian language: Винни-Пух) stories were made into a celebrated trilogy of short films by Soyuzmultfilm (directed by Fyodor Khitruk) from 1969 to 1972.
Films use Boris Zakhoder's translation of the book. Pooh was voiced by Yevgeny Leonov. Unlike the Disney adaptations, the animators did not base their depictions of the characters on Shepard's illustrations, creating a different look. The Soviet adaptations make extensive use of Milne's original text, and often bring out aspects of Milne's characters' personalities not used in the Disney adaptations.
A version of Winnie The Pooh, in which the animals were played by marionettes designed, made and operated by Bil And Cora Baird, was presented on 3 October 1960, on NBC Television's The Shirley Temple Show. Pooh himself is voiced by Franz Fazakas.
Magical World of Winnie the Pooh (Note: These are episodes from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)
(*): Puppet/live-action show
These features integrate stories from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and/or holiday specials with new footage.
Winnie the Pooh has inspired multiple texts to explain complex philosophical ideas. Benjamin Hoff used Milne's characters in The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet to explain Taoism. Similarly, Frederick Crews wrote essays about the Pooh books in abstruse academic jargon in The Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh to satirise a range of philosophical approaches. Pooh and the Philosophers by John T. Williams uses Winnie the Pooh as a backdrop to illustrate the works of philosophers including Descartes, Kant, Plato, and Nietzsche.
One of the best known characters in British children's literature, a 2011 poll saw Winnie the Pooh voted onto the list of icons of England. Forbes magazine ranked Pooh the most valuable fictional character in 2002, with merchandising products alone generating more than $5.9 billion that year. In 2005, Pooh generated $6 billion, a figure surpassed by only Mickey Mouse. In 2006, Pooh received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, marking the 80th birthday of Milne's creation. The bear is such a popular character in Poland that a Warsaw street is named for him, Ulica Kubusia Puchatka. There is also a street named after him in Budapest (Micimackó utca).
In music, Kenny Loggins wrote the song "House at Pooh Corner", which was originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Loggins later rewrote the song as "Return to Pooh Corner", featuring on the album of the same name in 1991. In Italy, a pop band took their name from Winnie, and were titled Pooh. In Estonia there is a punk/metal band called Winny Puhh.
In the "sport" of Poohsticks, competitors drop sticks into a stream from a bridge and then wait to see whose stick will cross the finish line first. Though it began as a game played by Pooh and his friends in the book The House at Pooh Corner and later in the films, it has crossed over into the real world: a World Championship Poohsticks race takes place in Oxfordshire each year. Ashdown Forest in England where the Pooh stories are set is a popular tourist attraction, and includes the wooden Pooh Bridge where Pooh and Piglet invented Poohsticks. The Oxford University Winnie the Pooh Society was founded by undergraduates in 1982.