Sock Monkey Business

We hope you are staying warm and safe! And now for some monkey business, which is to say, a story of 3 businesses purveying Sock Monkey wares. First is Queen B of course; we recently got all this cute Sock Monkey kids’ gear in at our new Beehive location, including a genuine Original Rockford Red Heel® Sock Monkey. 

Mr. & Ms. Sock Monkey’s ancestors go way, waaaaay back. Since a single hand-knit sock represents a full day of labor, for centuries thrifty people actually spent the time to darn their fraying socks. Darning is a form of stich-based woven mending, but it can only be done so many times before the sock is no longer wearable, so those same thrifty people who made their kids toys from scraps also used worn-out socks. So an ark’s worth of sock animals and sock puppets existed well before the classic, red-bottomed sock monkey arrived on the scene.

Mr. & Ms. Sock Monkey’s Origin Story: In 1869 Swedish immigrant John Nelson developed the first seamless sock-knitting machine in Rockford, Illinois. It was not the first sock machine ever, (that honor goes to Englishman William Lee, in 1589) but Nelson’s machine reduced production time while bringing the quality and comfort level of machine-knit socks up to that of handmade. Nelson founded the Nelson Knitting Mill in 1880 and made up to 15,000 dozen pairs per day! In 1932 the Nelson Knitting Co. introduced the Original Rockford Red Heel® sock: a men’s cotton work sock with a brown heathered body, a white toe, white cuff and white heel. To lend these prosaic socks some trademark(able) flair, the company added a distinctive, narrow red wedge to the heel. Original Rockford Red Heel® socks were sold both in department stores and through the internet’s predecessor, mail-order catalogs. And, amazingly enough, Nelson is also credited with creating the first stuffed Sock Monkey, with one red and white heel used as the monkey’s mouth and the other as his cute little butt! 

Alas, all did not go well for the Nelson Knitting Company, even though they went on to invent the heelless tube sock in 1967. Tube socks were instantly popular with athletes and Nelson supplied them to many professional teams, including both teams in the 1973 Superbowl. So what went wrong? Somehow the company NEGLECTED TO PATENT THEIR INVENTION. The tube sock could be knitted in 6 SECONDS so the technology was immediately knocked off by hordes of imitators. Nelson Knitting Mill held on for a while but finally went out of business in 1992.

But all was not lost for Mr. & Ms. Sock Monkey for this is where our third company steps up. Fox River is an American-owned and operated sock manufacturer founded in 1900 and based in Osage, Iowa. To quote Fox River directly “The Original Rockford Red Heel is a significant part of America’s industrial past. Made from 100% American sourced materials and knit on American-made equipment, they reflect American history in action.” Amen! Fox River bought the rights to the Red Heel sock in 1992 as Nelson Knitting Mill was dying and thus socks for making monkeys have never gone out of production. Today Fox River sells a crafting-specific sock just for monkey-making, plus more comfortable, modernized men’s, women’s and kid’s versions of the Red Heel sock, AND cute socks with designs of sock monkeys cavorting on them. Each sock takes 3 – 6 minutes to knit. Fox River also makes many other socks, including uniform-appropriate socks for first responders and military, and they run a charitable program for the public to donate socks to U.S. troops stationed overseas. And of course they sell Sock Monkeys and Sock Monkey kits or you can even download a FREE Sock Monkey-making pattern! Hooray!