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Sock Monkey History

History of the Sock Monkey

The Beginning

In 1869 the sock-knitting machine was patented by Swedish immigrant John Nelson who began manufacturing work socks in Rockford, Illinois in 1890. The adorable sock monkeys created from red-heeled socks emerged in the early 1900’s, around the time when Nelson Knitting Company added the trademarked red heel to its product. Nelson had created a loom that enabled socks to be manufactured without seams in the heel and these seamless work socks were so popular that the market was soon flooded with imitators. In short order socks of this type became known under the generic term "Rockfords" and Nelson Knitting added the red heel "de-tec-tip" to assure its customers that they were buying "original Rockfords" and it was this red heel that provided the monkeys their distinctive mouth. During the Great Depression, American mothers first made sock monkeys out of worn-out Rockford Red Heel Socks.

The Progression

Around 1951, the Nelson Knitting company discovered that their socks were being used to make monkey dolls and shortly after became involved in a patent dispute over the design of the sock monkey pattern. They were awarded the patent in 1955, and began including the pattern with every pair of socks. The sock monkey doll was then used as a marketing gimmick celebrating the widespread application of their product by inventive homemakers in the field of monkey manufacturing.

A few years later, a craft magazine Pack-O-Fun published "How to Make Sock Toys" - a guide to making various sock animals and dolls using red heeled socks. Cited as being their most popular publication ever, this pamphlet remained popular for decades and was being produced in new editions up until the mid-1980s.

In 1992 the Nelson Knitting Company was acquired in by Fox River Mills, and the original brown heather, Red Heel sock is still in production. A distinctive change in the sock design distinguishes monkeys made by both sock - Fox River heels are more uniformly ovular, without the end points that gave Nelson Knitting-made sock monkeys their smiles or frowns.

Sock Monkeys

Sock monkeys have evolved over time but remain a popular toy to this day. Most vintage red-heel sock monkeys that are still around are no older than the late 1950s, and many date from the 1970s. A "vintage" red-heel sock monkey is typically made from red-heel Nelson Knitting Company socks and similar socks knitted with red-heels by other companies in the same time period. Collectors use various methods to approximate the age of these vintage monkeys, including the shape of the red heel, the tightness of the weave, sock seams, and the style of clothing worn. The term "modern" red-heel sock monkeys is normally relegated to sock monkey dolls created after Fox River Mills, Inc. took over the knitting.

Home made red-heel sock monkeys usually have unique faces and body characteristics and are one-of-a-kind. Sock monkey dolls are also mass-manufactured and 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 that includes dolls from colorful striped or polka dot socks—even mismatched socks.

The enduring popularity of the sock monkey encouraged the city of Rockford, Illinois to celebrate the doll as a part of its history and in 2005 held its first "Sock Monkey Madness Festival". The city also simultaneously opened an exhibit highlighting the industrial, legal, and creative history of the Nelson red heel sock and the sock monkey.

Source: Wikiedia.org - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sock_monkey

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