Prior to founding the KONG Company, Joe Markham owned a Volkswagen repair shop in a rough part of downtown Denver, Colorado which had experienced to a string of burglaries in 1970. Due to budget cuts, the local police precinct denied a request for increased police patrols near Joe's repair shop, and suggested that Joe should get a guard dog instead. Joe knew of a German Shepard that had failed out of the police academy's canine division for "excessive chewing" and needed a home, thus "Fritz" was adopted and became a fixture at Joe's repair shop. While the burglaries stopped, Joe became concerned after noticing Fritz had a fondness for chewing on rocks and as a result Fritz's teeth were grinding down in the process. Joe tried just about everything he could think of, talking with friends and veterinarians, all the toys in the pet store and even gave radiator hoses a try, alas nothing could deter or survive the voracious Fritz.
One day while working on a late 60's Volkswagen Type 2 Bus, Fritz had gotten ahold of a rubber rear axle bump stop removed during the disassembly process, and "went crazy" with VW part no. 211-501-191.
The pliable yet tough nature of the rubber and its shape made the stop ideal for a dog like Fritz – strong enough to survive under his powerful bite, yet soft enough not to damage his teeth. It made Markham think: "This would be a good dog toy."
Markham spent the next six years experimenting with the rubber composition, size, and shape of the toy. He even contacted Volkswagen to buy the parts in bulk but couldn't reach the right person. So, he turned to rubber experts in Germany to finalize the right chemistry and composition. "He wanted to be associated with German build quality and engineering," says Decker.
Markham settled on a design very similar to the axle stop. It had a rounder, closed top that made it bounce more like an animal trying to escape a predator. "Dogs love that," says Decker.
Markham started selling the snowman-shaped KONG in 1976. It was an instant hit, and today millions of KONG toys have found homes with dogs around the world – thanks to one dog who just wouldn't stop chewing on part of a Volkswagen.