History of the rubber duck

No bath time experience would ever be complete without the addition of one yellow, plastic friend. We’re talking, of course, about a rubber duck – the staple of so many childhood bath time adventures. Seemingly functionless, these joyful, rubbery aquatic birds were a welcome addition to any bathtub – some of them even squirted water! They were pretty much the highlight of being in the bath when we were kids.

But, have you ever wondered where this iconic bathroom buddy came from? Rubber ducks falling from ocean liners, and winding up in the sea, have been pivotal for helping oceanographers understand current and wave formations in the past. So, let’s delve into their own past, and find out how these toy creatures became such a fixture of every family bathroom.

Rubber manufacturing

The origins of rubber ducks date back to the 1800s when rubber manufacturing took off and reached its peak. Animals were often crafted from the rubber, and ducks were especially popular – perhaps due to their association with water, and rubber being waterproof. These proved popular among families with children, who would use the rubber creatures at bathtime for the kids, and they started out as chew toys.

Disney link

Disney seems to be everywhere these days, and their empire shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Back in 1933, a latex supplier was able to buy the license to make a number of cheap bath floaters based on Disney characters. Donald and Donna Duck ranked among the most popular. This led to other companies wanting to mass market ducks, but not have to worry about licensing them from Disney.

Peter Ganine

Sculptor Peter Ganine decided to capitalize on this, and designed the now-iconic rubber duck design. He is credited as being the primary designer and took out a 14-year patent on the design all the way back in 1949. It is reported that Ganine sold a staggering 50 million units of these iconic rubber bath time friends! It seems like he should have chosen a longer time period than 14 years, after all!

Mainstream success

By the 1960s Ganine’s patent had expired, and these vinyl ducks could be manufactured for the mass market cheaply and quickly. They soon found their way into what seemed to be every household – and proved to be essential for helping to calm and soothe children who were afraid of being in the water. In February 1970, they made an appearance on the hit TV show Sesame Street, and this catapulted the bright yellow ducks into global popularity. After this they were pretty much owned all over the world, and became the legendary toy they are remembered as being today.

The world has moved on, and toys have grown up – indeed, you can buy Bluetooth rubber ducks these days for close to $100. But, there is still a place for the original and classic version, and this toy was inducted into the 2013 Toy Hall of Fame. Imagine what your childhood bathtimes would have been like without rubber ducks in your life!