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A sock monkey is a toy made from socks fashioned in the likeness of a monkey. These stuffed animals are a mixture of folk art and kitsch in the culture of the United States and the culture of Canada.
The sock monkey's most direct predecessors originated in the Victorian era, when the craze for imitation stuffed animals swept from Europe into North America and met the burgeoning Arts and Crafts Movement. Craft makers began sewing stuffed animals as toys to comfort children, and, as tales of the Scramble for Africa increased the public's familiarity with exotic species, monkey toys soon became a fixture of American nurseries. However, these early stuffed monkeys were not necessarily made from socks, and also lacked the characteristic red lips of the sock monkeys popular today.
John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States, patented the sock-knitting machine in 1868, and began knitting socks on an automatic machine Rockford, Illinois as early as 1870. On September 15, 1880, the Nelson Knitting Company formed, producing the "Celebrated Rockford Seamless Hosiery," selling them under the name of the "Nelson Sock." The iconic sock monkeys made from red-heeled socks, known today as the Rockford Red Heel, emerged at the earliest in 1932, the year the Nelson Knitting Company added the trademarked red heel to its product. In the early years, the red-heeled sock was marketed as "De-Tec-Tip". Nelson Knitting was an innovator in the mass market work sock field, creating a loom that enabled socks to be manufactured without seams in the heel. These seamless work socks were so popular that the market was soon flooded with imitators, and socks of this type were known under the generic term "Rockfords". Nelson Knitting added the red heel "De-Tec-Tip" to assure its customers that they were buying "original Rockfords". This red heel gave the monkeys their distinctive mouth. During the Great Depression, American crafters first made sock monkeys out of worn-out Rockford Red Heel Socks.
In 1955, Nelson Knitting was awarded the patent for the sock monkey doll. Events leading up to this included Helen Cooke of Aurora, Colorado receiving the patent in 1953. However, her patent was proven invalid after she sued a Stanley Levy for selling the dolls when it was discovered that sock monkeys were being made before Cooke received her patent in 1953, such as the doll crafted by Grace Winget of Rockford in 1951. Winget gave the doll to Nelson Knitting as evidence that sock monkeys had been made before 1953, which forced Cooke to give up her lawsuit and transfer the patent for the doll to Nelson Knitting in 1955.
Sock monkeys today
Sock monkeys remain a popular toy to this day. Sock monkeys are still popular to children of all ages. They now come in different styles such as Birthday themed, different colors, and even electronic ones that sing up-to-date pop songs. Most vintage red-heel sock monkeys found today are no older than the late 1950s, and many date from the 1970s. A number of methods for dating sock monkeys have been debated by collectors, including the shape of the red heel, the tightness of the weave, sock seams, the style of clothing worn, and other features. The term "vintage" red-heel sock monkeys is typically relegated to sock monkeys made from red-heel socks knitted by the Nelson Knitting Company and from similar socks knitted with red-heels by other companies in the same time period. The term "modern" red-heel sock monkeys is normally relegated to sock monkey dolls created after Fox River Mills, Inc.(Osage, IA) acquired Nelson Knitting Company in 1992.
Homemade red-heel sock monkey dolls usually have unique faces and body characteristics and are considered one-of-a-kind. Sock monkey dolls are also mass-manufactured in the marketplace. Sock monkey dolls mass-manufactured by a company normally all have the same face and body characteristics. Not all sock monkey dolls are created from red-heel socks. A new trend is growing to create sock monkey dolls from colorful striped or polka dot socks—even mismatched socks.
The love of sock monkeys has led them to become the center of many special occasions—trips, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and graduations to name a few, with their images now being used in photography, books, bookmarks, journals, greeting cards, jewelry, quilting, baking, sewing, commercials, movies, and more. Also, other sock creatures in spoofy likenesses of other animals are being designed and made. These include the 'Sockodile', 'Sockosaurus' and 'Sock Bear.'
Sock Monkey festivals
The continued popularity of the sock monkey encouraged the city of Rockford, Illinois to embrace the doll as a part of its history. In 2005, Midway Village Museum in Rockford held its first "Sock Monkey Madness Festival", wherein sock monkey fans could view an exhibit highlighting the industrial, legal, and creative history of the Nelson red heel sock and the sock monkey. Attractions of the event also include the Make-A-Monkey Workshop (where parents and children can create their very own toy), the annual Ms. and Mr. Sockford beauty and talent pageant, children's crafts, book signings, and free medical check-ups/minor surgery for vintage sock monkeys at the Sockford General Hospital. In 2009, the Sock Monkey Madness Festival was awarded a national Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for excellence in educational programming. The 2014 Sock Monkey Madness Festival will be held on March 1 and March 2, and this year's theme is Sock Monkey Super Heroes.
Other festivities have been held in other geographic areas, too, with sock monkeys as the event's main or supporting theme. Sock monkey novelty items are normally available for purchase in gift shops at such events, and also on the web and others.
- Boschma, Janie (2007-11-05). "History of the sock monkey – Stuffed animal created during the Great Depression". The Spectator (University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire). "sock monkeys have been part of American culture for nearly 100 years"
- Sock Monkey Craft Project Instructions – Step by step directions with photographs.