Two Harbors, Minn. – Six floors above ground, bright yellow with a large round belly, the world’s largest rubber duck of course takes part in the Sail Festival in Two Harbors, Minn., along the north shore of Lake Superior. ,
“She’s a big girl,” admits Craig Samborsky, a Duluth-based entrepreneur who holds tall ships festivals across the country, and was the first giant duck built back in 2014.
“The only thing I knew was it was going to be really smart, or really dumb. Being an entrepreneur kind of sums it up in one sentence,” he said, after spending over $50,000 to make it. Looking back on your decision.
Since then he has been looking very smart. The duck has since traveled the country, bringing smiles wherever it goes.
Duluth-based large event planner Craig Samborsky, who organizes long ships festivals across the country, came up with the idea of building the world’s largest rubber duck in 2014.
Dan Cracker / MPR News
“You have a rubber duck in your bathtub when you’re little, you get it for your kids… and that’s adorable, isn’t it?” Teresa Sessions of Mondovi, Wis., said after posing for a photo in front of a duck with her friend Betty Staub.
“This duck brings great joy to the people,” said Samborsky, soaking in the scene. “And I feel so lucky that I’m the person who gets to be at the end of their bliss.”
The world’s largest rubber duck was born on some misadventure. In 2014, Samborski was working on a Tall Ships festival in Los Angeles. One evening a city employee even defied a challenge on the project by drinking alcohol.
“He told me, he’s like, You’re a good event planner from Minnesota, Craig. But you’re in L.A. and you have to go big, or go home.”
his idea? To help attract more people to the Tall Ships celebration, build the world’s largest rubber duck.
“And, you know, I’ve had enough beer that I (thought) it was a good idea,” Samborsky recalled.
But the next morning he woke up, thinking, How can I make something like this? So he called on David Sherba, who runs a company called Inflatable Images out of Cleveland.
Craig Samborsky, who had the world’s largest rubber duck built in 2014, stands in front of his creation at the Long Ship Festival in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Dan Cracker / MPR News
Sherba and his brothers were hot air balloonists in the 1970s when they came up with the idea of blowing cold air into giant air to use as advertising.
You can say business. , , Blasted in attack. Since then he’s built custom-made inflatables for nearly every Fortune 100 company, making everything from giant beer cans to 80-foot-tall Pinocchios.
So when Samborsky called and asked, “Can you make me a giant rubber duck?”
“It was a crazy call, but not an unusual call,” Sherba said. “Because, you know, the business I’m in, I get crazy calls for crazy things all the time.”
The duck was such a hit at that first event in LA, Samborsky trucked him across the country to the next Tall Ships festival in Philadelphia.
But he didn’t go either.
“Duck sank to the bottom of the Delaware River on live television,” recalls Bob Home, who was hired by Samborsky to help quack ducks across the country.
Home is the retired Director of Operations at the Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center. He actually gave Samborsky his first job at the age of 14.
Since that disaster on Delaware, Home said the duck’s popularity has really taken off. Its impact on people is difficult to explain, he said.
“When you look at it, what it does for people. It’s amazing,” Hom said. “When we’re at restaurants, whatever city we’re in, they treat us like we’re rock stars when they find out we’re the Red Duck Wranglers. We’re like a big deal. It’s just It’s strange.”
Samborsky said it is almost like a religion. Seeing this for the first time, people jumped with joy. They have traveled to America from Japan and other countries to see it in person. A young couple had duck tattoos on their ankles and tracked it down to take a selfie. He gets at least a dozen emails a day from fans.
“I have pictures of so many people’s rubber duck collections. You know, mariachi band rubber ducks, bride and groom rubber ducks, Frankenstein rubber ducks, vampire rubber ducks. It’s just endless,” Samborsky said.
But it hasn’t all gone so much – floating – for the giant duck. There are duck haters out there, Samborsky said, offended by its kitschyness. Several years ago a Dutch artist accused him of plagiarizing his idea, a charge Samborsky denied.
He said the design of the duck is based on the original toy from the 1930s that is now in the public domain.
And this spring he had to pay for a replacement rubber duck, after the original was damaged at the grand opening of Tesla’s massive new electric car plant in Texas. Yes, apparently Elon Musk is also his fan. “Elon said the duck has to be here,” he was told.
Samborsky estimates he spent about $300,000 on the two ducks, a 30,000-pound steel pontoon he built specifically to keep older ducks in the water, and other expenses, including “the world’s largest rubber duck”. Including the cost of trademarking the slogan.
The world’s largest rubber duck looms at the Festival of Sale in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Dan Cracker / MPR News
He said the duck is still not completely broken. But merchandise sales helped pay for his oldest daughter’s college tuition (one of the more popular T-shirts read “I love big ducks and I can’t lie,” and a line of ducks feature).
When Samborski was young, he produced major events including stadium shows for the Metallica band. Back then, he said, he was all about “glitz and glamour.”
Now, he said that seeing the happiness that the giant duck brings to people, his mindset towards his business has completely changed.
The redesigned duck is much easier and cheaper to set up and transport, so Samborxi hopes to bring it to more places, including non-profit fundraisers, and, eventually, overseas.
He said the world’s biggest rubber duck started out as a great marketing gag. Now, he has absorbed some of the same joy the duck has brought to others.
“I mean, he’s a part of me now. He’s a part of my soul now.”
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