After more than 50 years, it remains true: Folks still go bananas over sock monkeys

When R.C. 'Ray' Peterson flew to Memphis, Tenn., in 1953 to buy the 'idea' of a sock monkey doll, he didn't know that a wonderful American tradition was on the brink of discovery.

| May 2007

  • Monkeys-25P-A-.jpg
    KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF: Anyone can make sock monkeys. The patent on the dolls expired long ago.
    Copyright 2001 Dee Lindner
  • Nelson-Company-25p-A.jpg
    MONKEY BUSINESS: Frank Shelain, a production superintendent with Nelson Knitting Company, and a knitter inspect one of the Rockford, Ill., company's first red-heeled socks.
    Courtesy of Ray Peterson
  • Ray-Lois-Peterson-14P-A.jpg
    DOLLMAKER, DEALMAKER: Ray and Lois Peterson are no strangers to sock monkeys: he bought the 'idea' of the dolls for his company - and she has made many a monkey.
    Copyright 2001 Dee Lindner

  • Monkeys-25P-A-.jpg
  • Nelson-Company-25p-A.jpg
  • Ray-Lois-Peterson-14P-A.jpg

When R.C. 'Ray' Peterson flew to Memphis, Tenn., in 1953 to buy the 'idea' of a sock monkey doll, he didn't know that a wonderful Ameri­can tradition was on the brink of discovery.

Peterson was making the trip on behalf of the Nelson Knitting Company, where he was the assistant to company president Tuve Floden. The Rockford, Ill., company had been making socks featuring red heels since 1935.

'One of our wholesalers put me in touch with a lady who created a sock monkey doll from a pair of our socks,' Peterson said. 'I thought the monkey would be a great promotional item for the company, and I wanted to meet her.

'I was instantly sold on the idea, and when I asked her what she wanted in exchange, she said she did not want anything,' he said. 'I told her to think it over, and I would stop back the next day. Her reply was, 'Would a hundred dollars be too much?' I replied, 'No, but how about a thousand dollars?'

'She did not faint, but she was overwhelmed by this generous amount.'

Promoting the doll

After Peterson's trip, the company patented the sock monkey doll on July 14, 1953. Soon, Peterson's wife, Lois, their church group, and other church groups of employees from the company began to create the dolls.

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