The Urethane Blog

Reinventing the Foam Finger

Local entrepreneurs look to reinvent the foam finger

Three Ames couples want the “Foam 5” to occupy sports stadiums and, potentially, the Iowa School for the Deaf.

A group of Ames residents are looking to re-define the foam finger with a few key adjustments, potentially changing the way stadiums and schools for the deaf look.

Karen Mills created “The Foam 5”, a foam finger toy with punched holes where the knuckles would be, with her husband after researching its history. She said the foam finger was originally designed by Steve Chemlar, a student at Ottumwa High School, built out of paper mache in 1971 for the Iowa Boy’s State basketball finals.

A few years later, a company in Texas took Chemlar’s design and put it into foam form, and the general design of the foam finger has remained about the same for over 40 years. Mills said she and her husband decided to figure out a way to make a foam finger that can reproduce almost any gesture they’d like.

“45 years is a long time for a novelty product to be on the market,” she said. “We want to take it to the next level.”

Foam 5 received the first shipment of their fingers shortly after securing a provisional patent in June. They began selling their wares at the Ames High School athletic kick-off, where they donated $5 of each sale back to the Booster Club, and are selling outside other sporting events around Iowa right now.

Mills said the company is in negotiations with Learfield Sports, a company that manages copyrights for Iowa State University and over 100 other colleges in the United States, to secure the rights to place collegiate logos on their foam fingers. When Foam 5 approached the University of Northern Iowa about placing the Panthers’ logo on their product, UNI approved their request “within 24 hours,” she said.

Ultimately, Mills said she wants Foam 5 to be available in team colors and logos for the NFL, MLB and almost every collegiate team in the country.

“We want it anywhere a foam finger would be,” she said.

Foam 5 is also working on developing its product as a teaching aid for deaf schoolchildren. Foam 5 co-owner Mike Peterson said he met with representatives from the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs for use in classrooms about three weeks ago. The Foam 5 can make about 90 percent of the gestures that make up American Sign Language, which could be useful for teaching young children basic signs.

The School is currently pilot-testing Foam 5s in a limited amount of classrooms. If it requests more, Peterson said the company would provide them free of charge as a philanthropy program.

While on the subject of gestures, the Foam 5 designers weren’t able to figure out a way to prevent users from making the middle finger or other lewd signals with their product. Peterson said school officials and stadium security will kick anyone seen making a rude gesture out of the venue. The company does not condone inappropriate use of the product, and Peterson offers a personal plea to customers that want to display vulgarities.

“What would your mother say?,” he said.

The Foam 5 sells for $15 per foam finger. For more information, visit