Keep ’em toasty

With the arrival of arctic weather on the East Coast my Bean Boots (the Gumshoes) have been in heavy rotation. Actually, I have the habit (bad?) of wearing those Bean Boots nearly round the clock. In my twisted mind they are shoes (not boots) and there doesn’t need to be snow or slush anywhere in sight for these bad boys to see action. The thing about wearing those boots when temperatures are in the teens (and below), socks are the key to comfort. Enter Fox River Mills – my wintertime sock manufacturer of choice. Fox River Mills is the perfect convergence of necessity, function and style. Plus, their prices are reasonable and I will give you one guess where they are made.


Socks from Fox River Mills including the Rockford Red Heel "Sock Monkey" socks pictured at center.

The company was founded in the Fox River Valley of Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1900 and eventually move its headquarters and production to Osage, Iowa. Fox River Mills is a large manufacturer of knit socks and other knit goods like gloves (which are also very nice) for civilian and the military customers, and it remains a family owned company. My personal favorite (of their many excellent socks) are the Rockford Red Heel “Monkey Socks,” which were originally invented and made by Nelson Knitting Mills of Rockford, IL. The Rockford Red Heel socks are known as the original work sock, worn by farmers and factory workers throughout America. More info from the Fox River Mills website:

Both Fox River and Nelson Knitting Mills, the original maker of the Rockford Red Heel sock, began business in the Midwest at the turn of the century. Both companies knit socks on innovative machines that allowed for the mass production that the expanding country needed.

In 1932, Nelson Knitting Mills first introduced the red heel on the Rockford sock, to distinguish their product from the many imitators. The making of sock monkeys came about on its own by clever crafters using a humble sock to make a beloved toy. In support of this phenomenon, in 1951 Nelson Knitting started enclosing sock monkey instructions with each pair of socks, a tradition Fox River has carried on to this day. In 1992, Fox River purchased the remaining assets of Nelson Knitting, including the trademark for the Rockford Red Heel® sock, as Nelson Knitting closed their doors.

Sometime in the 1940s or early 1950s mothers would fashion stuffed animals known as “Sock Monkeys” from the red heel socks. This helped to solidify the work socks as an iconic piece of Americana. More info about Sock Monkeys can be found here and they can be purchased here. And remember, keep ’em toasty.




Advertising images from Super Sock Monkey

Comments on “Keep ’em toasty

    tons of land on December 30, 2009 6:11 PM:

    there are few things more comforting than a fresh pair of socks.

    foolio_iglesias on December 30, 2009 9:44 PM:

    Fox River…..isn’t that where those escaped convicts originated from?Now one of them is a recurring character on ‘Heroes’….

    A Treasury of... on December 30, 2009 10:21 PM:

    The jolt of red in each pair is perfect for this time of year.

    Chal Pivik on December 30, 2009 10:33 PM:

    Smartwool socks are my cold weather sock of choice– the perfect 3-season sock, made in America from merino wool, soft and comfortable on the inside, keep your feet dry and warm. They keep their tight, well-fitting shape for the life of the sock. I wear the light hiking crews, but they have many different styles.

    Target was selling a Chinese-made version by Champion C9 for less than half the price and they lasted longer. But this year they seemed to have disappeared, possibly discontinued. I think LL Bean makes a version of them too, haven’t tried them. I just ordered a few more Smartwool pairs for this season.

    Jack on December 30, 2009 11:02 PM:

    I knew I recognized that melange brown/white & red from somewhere…

    I kind of want to buy a set now just to make the sock monkey.

    Andrea on December 30, 2009 11:59 PM:

    Sock monkeys are an under-appreciated part of American culture.

    VM on December 31, 2009 8:33 AM:

    I think I need some of those for the J. Crew Red Wings. My wife bought some Darn Tough wool hiking socks in Wyoming last summer, another American (Vermont) made sock. She swears by them now.

    Matt Weaver on December 31, 2009 10:32 AM:

    I would love to see a post on those Bean boots!

    the diabolical on December 31, 2009 11:10 AM:

    uninsulated bean boots are cold as @*&!) and not that comfortable.

    RP on December 31, 2009 11:24 AM:

    Cotton socks are not what I’d wear in inclement weather (or ever, really). These *look* OK, but where’s the merino version? I’m a fan of Smartwool and such brands too.

    Jeremy on December 31, 2009 11:26 AM:

    I grew up in the Fox Valley. It hadn’t been completed when I left town for good, but the Fox River Mills are now a luxury condo complex.

    Get your head around that one, luxury condos in a steel and paper town.

    Fern on December 31, 2009 2:08 PM:

    Rad post. Thank you for the sock monkey history tidbit.

    Brent Mackintosh on December 31, 2009 3:15 PM:

    Wow!! I grew up wearing these socks! I had an aunt who worked at Nelson’s, so I received their socks as gifts while growing up. I never really appreciated them until now!

    Red on December 31, 2009 7:13 PM:

    Found your blog recently and really like it but have to say that wearing cotton in cold or wet conditions can literally be the death of you. Cotton does not insulate and does not wick water. Wool socks are great for year round use and come in many thicknesses. They keep you warm in winter, cool in summer, and they do not retain odors like cotton. Try the wool.

    Michael Williams on December 31, 2009 7:27 PM:


    See the two sets of socks on the sides? Those are wool. Also, this photo does not represent every pair of socks I own. And I am not advocating wearing cotton socks for cold weather. Good lord these comments are getting more ridiculous by the day.

    Chris on December 31, 2009 7:35 PM:

    What serendipity. I just bought two pair while home for xmas–in the Fox Valley. The monkey socks plus a pair of their rag wool ones. Fantastic. All available at your local Fleet Farm if you’re from the area.

    Adam K on December 31, 2009 10:30 PM:

    I got 6 pairs of red heel socks for Xmas – wearing some now! They are nice but not warm, I’ll wear them throughout the warmer months. Wool socks are the best – I’ll probably be buying some fox river wool socks soon.

    Brian Miller on January 1, 2010 1:09 AM:

    You can’t even post a story about socks without getting haters and know-it-alls. Good Lordy.

    kim on January 1, 2010 8:46 PM:

    glad to know i’m not the only person who wants to wear my bean boots even in good weather.

    Gophers on January 5, 2010 3:54 PM:

    Ever Tried socks by Railroad Socks Co.? I believe they are made in USA – saw them down at the fleet farm.

    Corbyn on January 5, 2010 9:17 PM:

    Great Post!! I am born, raised and live in Rockford IL. We are real proud of the sock monkey.

    yuko on January 8, 2010 9:56 AM:

    am i the only one that is slightly disturbed by the look of the red heel?

    yuko on January 9, 2010 9:20 AM:

    “and he would of survived… if he hadn’t been wearing those COTTON SOCKS”

    DGM on January 10, 2010 9:13 AM:

    The Fox River gloves are also very nice, but it seems they are made in Haiti. I wish they’d try to find another US maker to collaborate with.

    JaneenMcNiff on January 27, 2010 12:01 PM:

    First, wanted to thank you for the post. I am an I.T. contractor and do some work for Fox River and their website, so have a lot of knowledge about this company and their products. They are a really great, down-to-earth, U.S.A. small family-owned business. I’m glad that you picked up on that Fox River makes LOTS of wool products, including many merino wool. I might add that the quality, in my opinion, is better than Smart Wool’s. Smart Wool is known for their marketing expertise — i.e. they put their money into making you believe their products are the best. (Not something I would want to pay for, but enough said) Just wanted to make a clarification on the gloves/Haiti thing on the last comment. The gloves are actually knit in the U.S.A., with some finishing in Haiti (sewing in liners, attaching leather palms, etc.). Fox River actually got backed in to acquiring this plant in a bankruptcy situation where they stood to lose a lot because of a large, outstanding order. They have been unwilling to jettison since, as the workers there (in the poorest country in the Americas) rely on those jobs. I will talk to the owners about making a full statement about the Haiti situation on their website. But I want you to know, Fox River is committed to staying in the U.S.A. and only has the Haiti connection out of necessity and humanitarian concerns, not to get cheap labor.

    Also, surprised to hear anybody still wears the Rockford Red Heels. Though I have heard people say they love the softness (probably a lounge around the house thing rather than a survive in the cold, rugged weather thing. They do make adorable sock monkeys, and I have made many myself!

    Karen on January 27, 2010 12:27 PM:

    Do you want people to DIE?!?! Cotton socks are pretty much the careless killers, the John DIllingers of the sock universe.

    Don’t be misled by their generations-long association with the cuddly, cute, and mildly-disturbing-in-a-red-butted-way sock monkey.

    It’s also too bad the wool socks on either side of your photo are completely invisible. How did you get your camera to make them that way? If people could see them, they might understand that you don’t have murder in your heart.

Comments are closed.