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Sock Monkeys: their History and their Revival

Oct 8, 2007

by strumpfkunst

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Gila von Meissner of Hamburg, Germany goes by strumpfkunst on Etsy.

Everyone knows what a sock monkey is. You probably played with one yourself as a child. But did you know that a sock monkey actually made an appearance at the Academy Awards? And that one of them even starred in Batman Returns?

Stuffed toys are a rather recent invention. The first manufacturer to concentrate on soft toys was the German company Steiff, which was founded in 1880 and invented the teddy bear in 1902.

When the European trend reached the United States in the 1920’s, mothers started making their own stuffed toys from socks. Nowadays, when people think of sock monkeys, they automatically think of so-called Original Rockford Red Heel® socks — gray work socks with a distinguished red and white heel.


("The Original Rockford Red Heel® sock monkey" Courtesy of Fox River® Mills)

These socks were originally made by the Nelson Knitting Mills in Rockford, Illinois (hence the name) since 1890, and patented in 1915. When the company decided to include sock monkey instructions with every pair of the Red Heel® socks in the 1950’s, the true marketing magic began.

The pattern was published in a craft magazine in 1955, and in 1958, the first book dedicated to sock monkeys was published. By then, elephant instructions were published as well, and sock monkeys became an important part of every American childhood.


As with every trend, it slowly died down, only to be resurrected again in the 1990’s, when the baby boomers shared their own childhood memories and started making sock monkeys again.

By 1992, Fox River® Mills, Osage, Iowa, had bought the Nelson Knitting Mills. They continued with the tradition of including sock monkey and elephant instructions with their products. In the same year, the first children’s book featuring sock animals was published (Tiger’s New Friends, by Ann Jacobs Mooney).

Were you wondering about the Academy Awards and Batman Returns? David Letterman featured a sock monkey during his Academy Awards appearance, promoting the movie Cabin Boy — where he was playing a street vendor selling — you guessed it — sock monkeys. In Batman Returns, Catwoman gives into evil by throwing hers away. 

I believe that with Etsy’s growing popularity, we are in for another revival. You can currently find more than 250 sock monkeys on Etsy, along with hundreds of items using sock monkey fabrics, art, and prints. Sock monkeys are adorable, no matter in which form they appear — so have a look around!

Further Resources:
Wikipedia sock monkey entry
Fox River® Mills
free Sock Monkey Pattern and Lenny Taylor’s Sok Monkey site

Morbid sock monkey - Skulls
Morbid sock monkey - Skulls
Sold
Sock Monkey - Red Heel
Sock Monkey - Red Heel
Sold
Sock Monkey Crochet pattern- PDF
Sock Monkey Crochet pattern- PDF
Sold
Meet Rosemary the Sock Monkey Original Painting
Meet Rosemary the Sock Monkey Original Painting
Sold
Punk Rock Sock Monkey
Punk Rock Sock Monkey
Sold

18 comments

  • siansburys

    siansburys said 8 years ago

    Awesome! Great read! Thank you :)

  • bunny

    bunny said 8 years ago

    Can i just say, Siansburys there ^ is awesome. Her sockmonkeys are to die for! (Ok, well, to spend your food shopping on at least ;)

  • strumpfkunst

    strumpfkunst said 8 years ago

    Thanks guys! That was a fun article to write, actually... Personally, I love Siansbury's monkeys, as well as the critters from Sunset Girl and Kittypinkstars. So much personality and a recognizable style! :)

  • Kreativlink

    Kreativlink said 8 years ago

    Great read, indeed! Silly me really thought sockmonkeys are a new thing ...

  • moogancreations

    moogancreations said 8 years ago

    great article!

  • electricdaisy

    electricdaisy said 8 years ago

    so fun!

  • iragrant

    iragrant said 8 years ago

    Great to see you here strumpfkunst:) and a great read!

  • bunny

    bunny said 8 years ago

    Wow strumpfkunst! Your sockdogs are goregous!!!

  • quirkybags

    quirkybags said 8 years ago

    Great article. I've always wondered about sock monkeys...now I know!

  • strumpfkunst

    strumpfkunst said 8 years ago

    See, I never knew either - I am German, so sock monkeys were completely new to me... and it was fun finding out!

  • mokeybiz

    mokeybiz said 8 years ago

    Hooray for sock monkeys...long live this tradition!!!

  • LavenderPatch

    LavenderPatch said 8 years ago

    I'm glad you gave Rockford cred for being home of the sock monkey. We've even got a huge traveling sock monkey to prove it : ) http://www.midwayvillage.com/default.asp?nav=exhibits&page=exhibits&nexhibitid=14&nexhibitpageid=1

  • strumpfkunst

    strumpfkunst said 8 years ago

    That's so cool! :) Fox was gracious enough to provide some background info, which was helpful. And I am still trying to get some original socks shipped to Germany, since we just don't have them here. I would love to do a batch of traditional ones... though probably smaller than Nelson.

  • SarasTextureCrafts

    SarasTextureCrafts said 8 years ago

    Brilliant insight to sock monkeys... really nice article. Sara x

  • ValerieTyler

    ValerieTyler said 8 years ago

    Such a fun idea for an article. I think sock monkeys are too adorable. (And as a teacher---a practical way to make puppets!)

  • smoobage

    smoobage said 8 years ago

    I love sock monkeys! My grandma made me and all my cousins one when we were wee. Ive had it for 20 years....one day i go upstairs (i have roomates) and two of the roomates dogs were playing tug 0'war with my sock monkey? I was so furious and sad I called my mom balling my eyes out. It was funny because she thought something was seriously wrong but it was just the mutilation of my beloved sock monkey. jus thought id share, no more putting the monkeys tail between its legs! like a weenee H

  • steampunkjewelry

    steampunkjewelry said 6 years ago

    Gotta love the new sock zombie trend!

  • Make you own Sock Monkey. {Review} | pickled, pinned and stuffed. said 1 year ago

    […] know was that they a history all of their own. The Etsy blog has a good brief history, click here to find out […]

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