Who Invented the Monkey Wrench?

Lots of claims have been made about the origins of the monkey wrench. Unfortunately, many of these claims are false and do nothing other than tarnish this great, game-changing invention. In this article, we’ll talk about how this tool came to be and the sort of controversial things that were said about the monkey wrench.

What is a Monkey Wrench?

Any person who’s watched TV or seen their parent’s attempt to tighten metal pipes has at least heard of the monkey wrench. A monkey wrench is a type of adjustable wrench with two straight metal jaws. By twisting the worm drive, the lower jaw will move either away or toward the stagnant upper jaw. This lets the operator use this wrench on bolts of almost any size.

The monkey wrench is an improvement on the regular wrench with two fixed jaws. Because the regular wrench can’t be adjusted, you can only use one wrench for a particular nut size, meaning that you’d have to invest in an entire set of wrenches to complete a single task.

However, the latest developments in wrench technology have made the monkey wrench almost obsolete. Even though this tool is still manufactured for heavy-duty tasks, the lighter, more compact adjustable spanner has pretty much replaced the monkey wrench as the DIY-er’s go-to tool for tightening and loosening nuts.

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False Origins of the Name

There are two main theories centered around the origins of the name monkey wrench which have been disproven. We’ll go over them briefly and explain why these theories are nothing but hot air.

Theory 1 – The Term “Monkey” is Used as a Derogatory Term for the Inventory, Jack Johnson

In late 2015, a meme was released on the internet depicting Jack Johnson, the African American heavyweight champion who held the title from 1908 to 1915, as the creator of the monkey wrench. The picture went on to explain that the word “monkey” was used as a way to tarnish the reputation of this great inventor who just happened to be black.

Even though Jack Johnson’s victory over James J. Jefferies in 1910 sparked race riots in more than 50 cities across the US, proving that racism was still alive and breathing, this “monkey” theory is completely untrue.

Surprisingly, this man who is known for bashing people’s faces patented a type of wrench (#1,413,121) in 1922. However, his patent was not an adjustable wrench, nor was the word “monkey” used as a description for the tool.

So what can we learn from this? Well, first of all, if you see something in a meme, don’t automatically assume it’s correct. This should be a no-brainer, really, since much of the stuff you find on the internet, especially on meme sites, aren’t factually or historically correct.

Theory 2 – Charles Monck Invented and Intentionally Coined the Name “Monkey Wrench”

This has been the more widely believed theory regarding the use of the word “monkey” in a monkey wrench. However, it carries as much truth in it as the Jack Johnson theory.

Supposedly, this adjustable wrench was invented by a Charles Monck or Monk around the end of the 19th century. As a way to forever immortalize his name in history and poke fun at himself, he decided to name the tool the “monkey” wrench.

Admittedly, it’s a cute story, but it’s simply not true. Many historians agree that Charles Monck didn’t even invent the tool, let alone name it after himself. An article in 2002 by Herb Page called Reach for the Wrench claims that the term monkey wrench was used as early as the 1840s. A tools publication in England entitled Timmins & Sons which comes from this era had already used the term to describe this adjustable wrench.

Sorry, Mr. Charles Monck, for taking away whatever credit you or others have given you concerning the invention and the coining of the term “monkey wrench.”

So What’s the Truth?

We would love to tell you that a monkey named Sir Larry Banana was the inventor of this historical and game-changing tool or even some guy from the 19th century named Monkey was involved. However, just like the Jack Johnson and Charles Monck theories earlier, these would just be baseless, meme-worthy theories.

Once again, two ideas are both true about the monkey wrench. The first is that the word “monkey” is used in the nautical sense to mean a small piece of equipment that serves an immediate purpose. You can twist the worm drive of the monkey wrench to make it immediately suitable for a wide range of differently sized nuts.

The second idea is that the term monkey wrench refers to the appearance of the tool. It has two straight, forward-jutting jaws which can move up and down depending on how you twist the “tail” of the tool so you can see how this tool could have been depicted as either the mouth of a monkey or its fist. It’s also easy to see that the tool has a crushing power similar to that of a monkey’s jaws or fist.

When the tool was first shipped to the US during the 1840s, it was already using the moniker “monkey wrench” as well as the SJ (Sheffield Johnsons) flag logo. It was a creation of the Sheffield Tools Co. which was known for manufacturing some of the world’s most reliable tools at the time.


So there you have it, folks. The monkey wrench’s name does not come from a derogatory word used to describe the first African American undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, nor was it named after Charles Monck. Strangely, neither of these two theories shines any truth on the coining of the term “monkey wrench” since they don’t seem too farfetched.

The name “monkey wrench” simply means a wrench that’s ready for immediate use, and it can also refer to how the tool has similar characteristics – appearance and gripping power – to a monkey. Who would’ve thought

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