Peter Takes on History
January 13, 1973
Happy Rubber Ducky Day!
In her article “Rubber Ducks and Their Significance in Contemporary American Culture” Professor Lotte Larsen-Meyer of Western Oregon University suggests Rubber ducks are primarily useful “to subdue bath fears ... stimulate developmental growth and cognitive skills.” But I’m over all that. I just think they’re fun. And that’s why today, January 13th, I want to help celebrate National Rubber Ducky day.
Rubber ducks date back to the early days of rubber. In the mid to late 1800’s rubber ducks were actually made of rubber, unlike the soft vinyl ducks we know today. And real rubber ducks didn’t float. They were originally just teething toys.
But, in the 30’s Walt Disney, in a rush to merchandise his cartoon characters, had a minor hit with some bathtub toys, the most popular, of course, Donald Duck. Well other toymakers noted the natural duck to water connection and wanted in on the action but didn’t want to pay Disney royalties so, forget Donald, they designed their own ducks.
In the late 40s a Russian sculptor by the name of Peter Ganine (GA-NEEN) designed the rubber ducky we all know and love. His patented flat-bottomed floating toy sold 50 million copies. That makes the rubber ducky one of the most popular toys of all time and, in 2013, the rubber ducky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
Today, rubber duckys come in myriad designs from cops to cowboys, politicians to TV personalities so, of course, there are rubber ducky collectors. The largest collection in the world belongs to Seattle rubber duck enthusiast Charlotte Lee who has more than 5600 different ducks.
The largest single rubber ducky in the world is the 33,000 pound, six story tall Mama Duck (available for festival rentals). It’s been moored in harbors all over the world including China where you can see a giant yellow rubber duck but you can’t Google “giant yellow rubber duck” because the Chinese people have been commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre (and dodging Chinese censors) by taking that famous shot of the man standing in from of a line of tanks and photoshopping giant yellow rubber ducks to replace the tanks. Really. Google it.
Rubber duckys have also made a valuable contribution to science. A storm in 1992 knocked a container full of 29,000 bath toys from a Chinese freighter bound for Tacoma, Washington. By following the meandering yellow markers oceanographers were able to validate their computer models of Pacific Ocean Currents.
So rubber duckys have informed, entertained and fundraised. You’ve probably seen or heard of Rubber Ducky races for charity. One of the oldest and most successful is put on every year by The Rotary Club of Aspen, District 5470. The Aspen Rotary Ducky Derby has raised more than $4 million to support youth groups and award scholarships.
I’d like to close with the immortal words of Grammy Award Nominated songwriter Jeff Ross, who reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1970:
Every day when I make my way to the tubby
I find a little fellow who's cute and yellow and chubby
Rubber duckie you're the one
You make bath time lots of fun
Rubber duckie I'm awfully fond of …
Rubber duckie I’d like a whole pond of ...
Rubber duckie I'm awfully fond of you!
Happy Rubber Ducky Day!