November 03, 2005

Sock Monkeys!

This year, due to a drastic scheduling asodfeiwurjbnrpiogfi (couldn't think of a fitting word to describe utter chaos), I am enrolled in speech team. Not that I don't enjoy speech team, however, because if you know me then you also know that I am a very talkative and non-shy person. One of the speeches I am giving this year, in fact for the rest of the year, is about Sock Monkeys. During the course of my research I have discovered a treasure trove of sock monkey interesting-ness. I love my speech, I plan on winning state this year. Anyway, my speech is great, and I also have my visuals. Now, the thing with the visuals is that I needed a picture of the guy that invented the socks for the sock monkeys. Unfortunately, he was middle aged in 1880 and a picture doesn't exist anywhere on the internet of him, so I had to do some digging. I e-mailed the Midway Village sock monkey historical village and they were kind enough to send me this photo of John Nelson. Take a good look, this is the only picture of him on the entire internet, scanned in just for me! Next time you're on jeopardy you'll get this question right, because JOHN NELSON made the sock monkey socks! Below is a copy of my speech. It takes 8 minutes to read out loud, but not as long just to read. It's interesting, just peruse it a bit, you'll learn a lot.

Sock Monkeys

Many of us have grown up with comfort items, whether they’re blankets, binkies, stuffed animals, or sometimes, perhaps, a pair of slippers or an oversized shirt. In any case, these items make childhood just that much more liveable, knowing your particular comfort item is just waiting for you at home in your bedroom. One such stuffed animal comes to the minds of many when considering such creature comforts, that animal being the classic sock monkey. Even if the name of such a creature doesn’t ring a bell, one glimpse at its strange elongated face and bright red lips is usually enough for that Ahhhh!. Strange isn’t it, that a monkey made out of a sock is recognizable by so many people. The sock monkey has even made appearances in the Dilbert comic strip. . .but why? Why socks? Why monkeys? Why anything at all? Why care? Just. . .why? Sock monkeys, although stuffed bits of socks, have a unique beginning, evolution, and future, that rivals that of most living primates. Let’s take a look under the sock, dig through the fluff, and explore the true inner workings of the sock monkey and all it entails, including its history, its evolution through time, and its role in today’s world as a deeply cemented subculture amongst monkey enthusiasts.
In 1852 a man named John Nelson left Sweden for America. He wanted to take a chance with America, throw his dice and hope for a yahtzee. He worked hard in America, and it took 17 diligent years before John figured out what to do with his life. John, a self-respecting Swedish man, found his bliss in inventing sewing machines. John developed three different sewing machines, which he patented in 1869, 1876, and 1879. But. . .these weren’t ordinary sewing machines, these were special. These three sewing machines were the first sock knitting machines in the world. Patents for his machines in his back pocket, Mr. Nelson opened up a factory in 1880, named Nelson Knitting Mills. Mr. Nelson showed a lot of creativity in naming his factory, didn’t he? Anyway, Nelson Knitting Mills was and still is the first company in the entire world to manufacture socks . John based his factory in Rockford Illinois, where it remained until 1992. In 1992 Nelson Knitting Mills was purchased by Fox River Mills. But what about the socks? The socks that are used in the construction of sock monkeys began to be manufactured in 1890. Known as red heel socks, these socks were a bespeckled mix of black, white, and brown. The contained a cream colored shank and toe. Also, as the name suggests, they sported a large red heel. These socks were mainly used by construction workers, farmers, and factory workers. Since John Nelson monopolized the sock market with his three sewing machines, he could sell his socks for whatever price he chose. Having once had to scrape by in America, he decided to sell his socks at a reasonable price, instead of exploiting the barefooted American population. Due to this off-beat pricing strategy, many families lacked stuffed animals and toys for children, but had red heel socks laying around everywhere! It was in the early 1900s that moms began making sock animals for their children. Eventually, John recognized a good thing and began including the directions for two types of animals in his packages of socks. Children could then have "official" sock monkeys and elephants. Thus, the sock monkey is born, and the sad truth is that although born with the monkey, the elephant has been relegated to rest forever in that one box ata a garage sale that everybody avoids because of the smell. It’s sad, yes, but the elephant is rarely heard of today, while the monkey still exists in all of its previous sock glory.
Sock monkeys have not been of a stagnate design since the early 1900s. They’ve evolved just as everything does. Take the types of socks used. The original sock, produced from 1890 until 1967 boasted a larger cream toe area, a wider sock body, and a narrower shank. The newer socks, being produced today, have a smaller toe, narrower sock body, and a shank that is the same width as the sock. The sock price has also evolved. Selling for 33 cents in 1960, they sell for as much as $5.50 now. The instructions have also evolved. Now they include color and much more descriptive diagrams.
There it is, how the sock monkey came into being and how it has evolved. In short, John Nelson came from Sweden, made the socks in America, and moms made monkeys for their children. Over time the socks have evolved and changed to suit the current trends.
Now that the facts are known, it’s time to introduce some less than factual observations on the sock monkeys of today. Many people have been nice enough to create websites detailing their stories of sock monkey history and evolution. The following is a verbatim, word for word, honest to God, story that the internet has to offer:
For an estimated twenty thousand years, sock monkeys and humans have existed in a symbiotic relationship. This relationship began with the monkey's favorite food, lint, which was produced in vast quantities in the prehistoric dryers of humans. Lured by the lint, hungry sock monkeys began to wander into laundry rooms. Humans encouraged the monkeys to stay. Slowly they adapted to living in our homes. The monkeys have lost their ability to hunt and can no longer live in the wild. Their ferocious lint grabbing claws have atrophied into plush little stumps. In fact, today's sock monkeys rarely even move.
This evolutionary story is an excellent example of what the sock monkey subculture of today has to offer. Another example being the Midway Village and Museum Center, which was established in 1968 as an historical landmark to preserve Rockford, Illinois, the sock monkey’s home town. Midway Village is home to a six foot fiberglass sock monkey statue, and future home to many more. The village plans on planting large sock monkey statues throughout the entire town. They also have a large and to scale sock monkey that they have named Nelson. Nelson is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs eight pounds. He was made from 44 red heel socks and his current fashion accessories consist of a fanny pack and hat. Midway village also has a yearly Sock Monkey Festival, where visitors can make their own sock monkeys, see sock monkey exhibits, and meet the great granddaughter of John Nelson.
Apart from legitimate sock monkey devotees, there are many more avid followers that are slightly less than historically motivated. Take for instance the man who provided us with the sock monkey evolution we just heard. He also believed that the only way to save the world from the Y2K disaster was to send out a billion sock monkeys around the world to fix all the computers. After NASA refused to fund him 1.3 trillion dollars he placed three monkeys on his porch and gave them a pep talk. The next morning he peeked out the front door, as he usually did every morning and found the sock monkeys there. He knew they had completed their mission because nothing happened during Y2K.
This man isn’t the only obsessive fan. The red heel sock monkey message board has hundreds of posts, all about sock monkeys. A website called "The Big Tim" is written by a sock monkey named Tim and includes Tim’s blog, Tim’s bio, and a list of people Tim wants to slap. These examples are only a few out of hundreds of sock monkey extremist stories. There is an entirely unnoticed sock monkey oriented group of people wandering this earth that sane people rarely know exist.
Sock monkeys have been around for over a hundred years. They have a unique history, an interesting evolutionary story, and frankly, a slightly creepy present day following. Since 1900 when sock monkeys first came into existence, all the way up to present day when sock monkeys are still revered by many devotees, the small plush monkeys have definitely left their mark on the United States. . . and the entire world!

I hope you enjoyed it, I'll keep you updated as to how I do in tournaments.


bananageek07 said...

Hey! I have a sock monkey! Haha.

Greg said...


cheesemeister said...

I knew everyone in the world had a sock monkey, but who knew they had such history? Thanks for the fun essay!

Anonymous said...

hey! check out this site i foundon google! its pretty cool - just ** type in ROCKINSOCKT on google!

Anonymous said...

How about a little support?? Sock Monkey is running for President, you know:

Many sock monkeys need adoption in N. Ft. Myers FL and photos of them can be obtained by contacting:

Monkeys by Grandma:

somebody said...