Sock Monkeys have been a part of American childhood for generations. While it’s unknown when they were first created, predecessors closely resembling the sock monkey date back to the Victorian era. However, these early versions were not necessarily made of socks and did not have the notorious red lips.
The Nelson Knitting Company first produced Rockford Red Heel socks in 1932 in Rockford, Illinois. The iconic sock monkey, featuring the bright red lips, is made from these red-heeled socks. As 1932 was right in the heart of the Great Depression, it’s thought that the sock monkey was created in the United States shortly after the Rockford Red Heel socks were first produced. These toys would be handmade from worn-out socks to provide a cheap, comforting companion for children living in poverty.
In 1955, after much litigation, Nelson Knitting Company was granted the patent for the sock monkey. Instructions on how to make the doll were then included in every package of Nelson socks. The patent expired in 1970, making the sock monkey belong to everyone.
By 1988, Nelson Knitting Company was receiving 50 to 100 letters per month regarding the sock monkey. In 1992, after multiple mergers and acquisitions, Nelson Knitting closed its doors for good, and Fox River Mills bought what was left of the company.
Even though the Nelson name was no longer being used, and the sock monkey patent expired many years before, Fox River Mills still included sock monkey instructions on the Rockford Red Heel socks it sold – and continues to do so to this day. The company also added additional color options, created a sock monkey and friends pattern book, participates in craft events and licensed the use of the sock monkey in a 2010 Kia Super Bowl commercial.
Rockford is still considered to be the birthplace of the sock monkey, and takes great pride in that. Sock Monkey Madness Festival is held at the Midway Village Center in Rockford every year. Visitors learn about the history of the knitting industry in Rockford, as well as the history of the lovable sock monkey. Midway Village Center is the home of the largest sock monkey, Nelson, who is 7 feet, 2 inches tall and made from 44 Rockford Red Heel socks.
Today, the sock monkey continues to capture the hearts of many. It has evolved over the years, and can now be found in various colors and themes. It’s no longer just a toy, but rather an icon. Sock monkeys are featured on clothing patterns, as slippers, hats and so much more. After all these years, the sock monkey legacy lives on, and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Want to make a party of sock monkeys? We have industry-low pricing and socks in many designs and colors to help you make awesome monkey friends.