It just so happens that the cute rubber duckie we all know and love truly is all it’s quacked up to be.

The quintessential children’s bath toy has endured for over 80 years—but before we take a look at how today’s kids—and plenty of adults—enjoy the rubber duckie, let’s explore its rise to bathtub fame.

Cute, small, and sometimes squeaky…what’s not to love?

Way back in 1933, a latex supplier licensed a series of Disney characters (Donald and Donna Duck reigned as the most popular) and made inexpensive bath floaters. I wonder if he knew that dipping his toes in this water would create such a splash?

Rubber duck historians claim that by the 1940s, the rubber duckie—still being made out of vinyl—secured its iconic look as a floating yellow figure with a bright orange bill.

In the 1950s, scientists reformulated the duck’s materials to make it safer for infant use. Ten years later, the duck was free from patent restriction and production started cranking…getting it into the hands and bathtubs of even more kids around the world.

A cultural icon dives into a new role

By this time in the duck’s historic rise to fame and fortune, leaders in education (and a whole bunch of parents) theorized that learning can be enhanced with fun. Play became an important—and socially acceptable—part of learning. So the rubber duckie was re-cast as a learning tool—a role it has embraced wholeheartedly.

Not only could the rubber duckie soothe bath-time jitters and provide endless entertainment floating along the sudsy waves and squirting the occasional stream of water across the tub, but the toy could also teach its toddler about color, buoyancy, and personal hygiene (“Go on, sweetie, give your rubber duckie a good washing!”).

The symbol of good clean fun gets its time in the sun

In 1970, Sesame Street’s adorable orange muppet, Ernie, first sang what would become a #16 hit on Billboard charts, “Rubber Duckie.” Watch it here: https://youtu.be/bf9d7rSf_Ks

Rubber Duckie, you’re the one

You make bath time lots of fun

Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you

Rubber Duckie, joy of joys

When I squeeze you, you make noise

Rubber Duckie, you’re my very best friend, it’s true

Is it any wonder the Rubber Duckie was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame In 2013?

rubber duckie history

Beyond bath-time

Today, plain yellow rubber duckies are considered “retro.” Who knew? Now you can find ducks in various colors, dressed like pirates, clowns, and even health professionals. Some even sport devil horns. It’s easy to see why these have become collectors items for many grown-ups.

Here are some fun ways to engage rubber duckies in and around your home:

  • Relieve stress by squeezing a duck—like a kiddie stress ball
  • Attach magnets to ducks and have kids “fish” with magnetic poles
  • Teach directional vocabulary by moving ducks up, down, backwards, forwards, etc.
  • Build coordination by having kids balance ducks on their heads
  • Teach counting skills with Smart Splash® Number Fun Ducks, which feature countable dots on their backs and corresponding number on the bottom.

Sources:

National Museum of Play

Quacker Gift Shop

Mentalfloss.com

The Journal of American Culture

NAEYC