Rubber toys first appeared in the late 1800s, when manufacturers made use of Charles Goodyear’s process for rendering rubber into malleable material. The first rubber ducks didn’t even float: they were cast solid and intended as chew toys. By the 1940s, rubber ducks developed into the iconic floating yellow figure with bright orange bill we recognize today. For many decades, most duck figures have been made of vinyl, but we still call them rubber ducks.
Rubber ducks naturally inspire water play that develops muscle strength and coordination. With their bright color, smooth texture, and (for some) squeaky or quacky sounds, rubber ducks sharpen toddlers’ senses. Their presence in the bathtub soothes youngsters’ fears of water and water immersion and makes good clean fun of the routine hygiene they’re learning.
Rubber ducks have been recognized as the quintessential bathtub toy since 1970 when Ernie, the cheerful orange Muppet on Sesame Street, first sang the catchy ditty “Rubber Duckie” to his best bath buddy. The song rose to number 16 on Billboard’s chart of hit tunes and, decades later, kids still sing the praises of their water play pals. Adults, too, appreciate rubber ducks. Collectors proudly display variations of the classic form that proclaim their affinity to colleges, careers, sports, celebrities, and holidays. Aficionados adorn their homes with rubber duck–themed shower curtains, towels, bathrobes, nightlights, and wallpaper. “Rubber Duckie, you’re the one,” indeed!