Guess who is paddling ahead in bringing manufacturing back to American shores? None other than that icon of bubbly good clean fun, the rubber duckie!
After creating dozens of celebrity rubber duck likenesses and having them made overseas, Craig Wolfe of Celebriducks got the hare-brained idea of moving production for a duck back home. Appropriately christened with the patriotic name “Sam”, this duckie’s birth is a blessed event – for rubber duckie lovers anyway – and is a nod to the time when Akron Ohio was the Capitol of toy making.
The Heyday of Toy Making in America
The year 1884 marks the birth of the toy industry when Samuel C. Dyke invented the machinery to produce “commie” (because they were the most common) marbles. The switch from handmade to mass-produced marbles caused the price to drop substantially, making this toy affordable to everyone, even kids with pocket change.
“Around the same time, leading members of the rubber industry took notice of this new children’s market and soon were turning out the first mass-produced rubber toys, such as: rubber balloons, rubber balls, rubber dollies, rubber duckies and rubber baby buggy bumpers…
“In total, our research has identified almost 100 toy companies that operated within the greater Akron area since 1884…”
Countless rubber duckies came into being during this period made by companies such a Sun Rubber and Rempel. Generations of children (and adults) fell under their spell. Today, as a culture we associate the rubber duckie with all the goodness of those childhood years.
Demise of the American Toy Industry
The spell didn’t last forever. That inevitable given – change – hit the American rubber industry. Slowly, manufacturing moved to other shores. Many factors contributed to this: Lower production costs elsewhere while wages climbed at home, cheap shipping to bring products back from overseas, and strict pollution controls in the U.S. are a few. A myriad of reasons pointed the way, as has been the case for many American industries.
Introducing Modern Day Rubber Duckie Mogul Craig Wolfe
Enter Craig Wolfe. Back in the late 1990’s he was enjoying a soak in the hot tub with a friend when he came up with a crazy idea: Blending famous personalities with rubber duckies. He named these caricature rubber ducks “Celebriducks.”
Over time, Mr. Wolfe has created a veritable museum of memorable characters. From Santa Claus to presidents, sports heroes to film stars, Celebriducks immortalizes them all as rubber ducks. A steady stream of characters has grown the Celebriducks lineup to over 300 in all to date, all designed in the United States, and arriving home on cargo ships after being manufactured in China.
An Even Crazier Idea: Rubber Duckies Hatched in the USA Again!
One day Mr. Wolfe was chatting with a rubber manufacturer when the outlandish thought of making rubber duckies in the US was brought up. The answer was, “Oh yes, you can do it!” And so, he did.
To a man who thought rubber duck caricatures a viable business – and made it so – one would not be surprised that Mr. Wolfe would jump at the chance to bring rubber duck making back to the States. Of course, every savvy entrepreneur knows that any new venture will face obstacles. And so it was for rubber duck manufacturing in the U.S.
For one, not only had the making of toys moved across the world, the skills of mold making and painting had disappeared too. Original plans to have the entire manufacturing operation in Ohio were scrapped and part of the production ended up in New York at the factory where Ernie’s duck was made. Yes, that Ernie, rubber duckie’s number one fan!
Nevertheless, Mr. Wolfe persevered with the first rubber ducks manufactured in the U.S. in decades joining the Celebriducks cast of characters. In fact he now has five American-made characters in his lineup, including SAM, the Harley Davidson “Pork Chopper” and a Future Farmers of America duck. All-American rubber duckies made by an all-American entrepreneur. Now that’s some good clean fun!