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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 1869, and began manufacturing work socks in Rockford, Illinois in 1890. The iconic sock monkeys made from red-heeled socks 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.
Sock monkeys today
Sock monkeys remain a popular toy to this day. Sock monkeys are now becoming more 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.
Home made 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.
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.
- 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.