A rubber duck, or rubber ducky, is a toy shaped like a duck, and is generally yellow. It may be made of rubber or rubber-like material such as vinyl plastic (which is more often used). Most commonly, rubber ducks are designed to be used as floating bathtub toys, however not all rubber ducks are bath toys. Some rubber ducks are play figures similar to other squeezable or “squeaky” toys typically given to children and sometimes dogs. Rubber ducks can be found in various colors, sizes, shapes, and outfits. While still primarily considered a children's toy Rubber ducks have achieved status as a popular icon. Rubber ducks may be equipped with a squeaker. More rarely, the toy may have a “squeaker” that makes a sound resembling the quack of a real duck. Bath toy ducks sometimes have a hole in the bill and or in the bottom that allows the toy to take in and then squirt water.
Jim Henson popularized rubber ducks in 1970, performing "Rubber Duckie" as Ernie, a popular Muppet from Sesame Street. The song had two follow-ups, "Do de Rubber Duck" and "DUCKIE," and Ernie frequently spoke to his duck and carried it with him in other segments of the show. The song "Rubber Duckie" and many of the characters of the show were done by Jim Henson.
As the rubber duck has grown in popularity over the years, many variants are sold, including "devil ducks," "dead ducks," and "bride and groom" ducks.
In 2001, The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper reported that Queen Elizabeth II has a rubber duck in her bathroom that wears an inflatable crown. The duck was spotted by a workman who was repainting her bathroom. The story prompted sales of rubber ducks in the United Kingdom to increase by 80% for a short period.
Rubber ducks are collected by a small number of enthusiasts in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and the Netherlands. The 2007 Guinness World Record for World's Largest Rubber Duck Collection numbered 2,583 unique rubber ducks was awarded to Charlotte Lee of Duckplanet.com.
The rubber duck can be referred to informally as a "rubber duckie" or a "rubber ducky." Amongst collectors of rubber ducks, the spelling "rubber duckie" has achieved prominence, but both spellings are considered acceptable.
There are hundreds of races held in the USA and internationally. The largest race in the United States benefits the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati, Ohio; over 100,000 ducks are raced to raise money for the organization.
One of the more famous rubber duck races is the Great Knoxville Rubber Duck Race This race received attention when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that it was a lottery, which stopped the race for a few years. After the state amended its constitution to allow lotteries with special exceptions, the race was reinstituted. In 2006, the River Liffey in Dublin hosted the world's largest duck race, with 150,000 ducks.
One other race was conducted in Australia in January 1988. It was run from the "High-level bridge" to the "Low-level bridge" near Katherine, New Territories on the Australia Day long weekend. Acting on behalf of the town's Bicentennial Committee, Royal Australian Air Force officers Andrew Cairns and Jock MacGowan constructed the release cage from PVC pipe, purchased and numbered the ducks, printed tickets, and even arranged a helicopter flypast for the auspicious occasion.
Rubber ducks are used in small quantities as herding targets for radio controlled model yachts, the objective being to move all of the loose ducks into a floating pen.