Few toys can boast a century's worth of staying power and recent boom of popularity, but the sock monkey, with its button eyes and grinning red mouth, is just such a toy.
In 1890, Nelson Knitting Mills in Rockford, Illinois began producing their Rockford Red Heel socks. Intended for heavy duty work use, nevertheless sock monkeys began popping up in the early 1900s made from these brown-speckled red-heeled socks.
Although using socks to make toys was by no means new--dolls from as early as the 19th century can be found with stretched cotton and silk sock faces--the sock monkey was particularly ingenious due to the fact that a single pair of socks could make one 18" monkey. Starting in 1920, Nelson started including directions on making sock monkeys and elephants with each pair of socks they sold. When Nelson was sold to Fox River Mills in 1992, they continued the sock monkey tradition.
Sock monkeys have never really lost their appeal. In the 1950s, the sock monkey experienced another boom of popularity and spawned several books whose titles include "How to Make Sock Toys for Bazaars, Shut-Ins, Gifts, Profit and Fun" and "How to Make the Original Red Heel Sock Monkey and Other Toys". They include directions on how to make the monkey, plus other animals, such as teddy bears, kittens, and bunnies, plus dolls ranging from soldiers to Dutch maids.
For today's youth, the sock monkey has inspired books such as Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey, and a complete fashion line by Paul Frank including t-shirts, handbags, towels, and bikinis. Collectors of all ages can find many different new and vintage sock monkeys on eBay.
Want to make your own monkey? You can buy a pair of original Red Heel socks at many Army surplus stores and supermarkets with the included directions. Or you can buy any pair of red-heeled socks and go to http://www.supersockmonkey.com/catalog/howtomake.html for instructions and pictures. Happy crafting!
interrobang says This is an interesting example of the benefits of not copyrighting and tightly controlling a product. If they didn't send out instructions, and instead patented everthing they could about the sock monkey, I doubt they'd be anywhere near as popular today.