All it’s ‘quacked’ up to be.
The old adage is that everyone (and everything) has its day.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, that happens to be for the famed Rubber Ducky.
Emerging around the late 1800s to coincide with the development of rubber, many toys were created using at that time but the Rubber Duck has stood the test of time. It was originally designed as a ‘chew toy’ for children.
The earliest known patent for a rubber duck toy was in 1928 by Landon Smart Lawrence. His design was for a bath toy which was weighted and when tipped would return to its upright position. The sketch included with the patent was that of a duck.
Soon after, Russian sculptor Peter Ganine sculpted many animal figures. One, a duck, he later designed and patented it into a floating toy which closely resembles the rubber ducky we have become familiar with today.
Rubber was a valuable commodity during World Wars I and II, and was therefore rationed. Wanting this becoming-popular toy to continue, other materials were needed. With the introduction of plastic in the 1940s, the rubber duck began being produced more economically in vinyl and plastic.
Most rubber ducks today are made from vinyl plastic, a rubber-like substance. If you investigate, you can still purchase a natural rubber duck bath toy made from rubber harvested from a rubber tree.
In the 1970s, neighborhood carnivals to raise money for Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon were commonplace. There was usually a drop off place in each community to which to take donations.
Each year, the kids on my block — or ‘track’ as we called it — would set up games in our backyard to collect admission/donations pennies, nickels, dimes, and (if we were lucky) quarters. These would consist of ring toss, basketball shooting, and others.
We would also have a ‘talent’ show. This would consist of singing, dancing, juggling, magic acts, tumbling, and of course, comedy. As mentioned in a previous column, I have always liked to dabble in impersonations. The first one I can ever remember doing was for one of these carnivals.
As a child of the early days of Sesame Street, all of the characters seemed like family members and friends. Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Snuffaluffagus were (and still are) pals to millions of children.
The music of the show was catchy (remember ‘Who are the People in Your Neighborhood’), but my favorite was by the Muppet Ernie — complete with a happy-go-lucky Barney Rubble-ish personality.
I found I could do the Ernie voice when singing his trademark song that tried to encourage kids to take baths — ‘Rubber Duckie.’
The song appeared on Sesame Street in 1970, and it was such a hit, it even reached as high as number 16 on the Billboard Top 100. With lyrics such as ‘Every day when I make my way to the tubby, I find a little fella who’s cute and yellow and chubby,’ how could it go wrong?
For a number of years, that Ernie impersonation found its way into our neighborhood carnivals. It did not take long for me to realize that Kermit the Frog was essentially the same voice — and ‘Rainbow Connection’ became part of my repertoire. Have you ever seen the two iconic Muppets together?
In 2013, the rubber duck finally found its rightful place in the National Toy Hall of Fame, being inducted that year with the game of Chess. It joined past inductees including Yo-Yos, Play-Doh, Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, and (the vastly underappreciated) Etch-A-Sketch.
The squeaky yellow icon even made its way into another novelty song in the 1970s with the hit ‘Convoy’ as it was told from the perspective of a Mack Truck driver who replaced his vehicle’s bulldog hood ornament on his Mack truck with the bathtub toy and used the on-air handle of ‘Rubber Duck.’
Rubber ducks are still prevalent in our society in big fundraising efforts. Downtown Columbus hosts an annual race that benefits Nationwide Children’s Hospital. People can purchase rubber ducks, they are all dropped by the thousands into the river, and the first few to cross the finish line win prizes. Similar events happen throughout the world.
From the fundraising races to Sesame Street to encouraging child hygiene, there are so many reasons to celebrate this iconic part of our history today.
Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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