Monkey wrench

Monkey wrench
Tweedy and Popp - hand-forged adjustable wrench.jpg

The monkey wrench (also known as an adjustable spanner in the UK) is an adjustable wrench, a later American development of eighteenth century English coach wrenches. It was popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but is now used only for heavier tasks, having been mostly replaced by the lighter and sleeker shifting adjustable or "Crescent" wrench. The term monkey wrench is also used colloquially (and mistakenly) to refer to the pipe wrench, owing to their broadly alikened shapes.


Etymology and history

Monkey wrench (left) compared to Stillson or pipe wrench (right)

The World English Dictionary gives a nautical definition for monkey, as a modifier "denoting a small light structure or piece of equipment contrived to suit an immediate purpose: a monkey foresail ; a monkey bridge."[1]

Adjustable coach wrenches for the odd-sized nuts of wagon wheels were manufactured in England and imported to North America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They were set either by sliding a wedge, or later by twisting the handle, which turned a screw, narrowing or widening the jaws. In 1840, Worcester, Massachusetts knife manufacturer Loring Coes invented a screw-based coach wrench design in which the jaw width was set with a spinning ring fixed under the sliding lower jaw, above the handle. This was patented in 1841 and the tools were advertised and sold in the United States as monkey wrenches, a term which was already in use for the English handle-set coach wrenches.[2] For the next eighty-seven years a very wide and popular range of monkey wrenches was manufactured by Coes family partnerships, licensees and companies, which filed further wrench patents throughout the nineteenth cenutry. Some Coes wrenches could be bought with wooden knife handles, harking back to the company's early knife making business. In 1909 the Coes Wrench Company advertised a six-foot-long "key" wrench, shaped like a monkey wrench, for use on railroads.[3][4] The Coes wrench designs were acquired by longtime toolmaker Bemis & Call of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1928. After 1939 its successor companies manufactured monkey wrenches from Coes designs until the mid 1960s, yielding a production run of over 120 years.[2][5][6]

Monkey wrenches are still manufactured and are used for some heavy tasks but they have otherwise been mostly replaced by the shifting adjustable wrench, sometimes called the "Crescent" wrench, which is much lighter and has a smaller head, allowing it to fit more easily into tight spaces.

Charles Moncky story

The following story can be found in sundry publications from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

That handy tool, the "monkey-wrench", is not so named because it is a handy thing to monkey with, or for any kindred reason. "Monkey" is not its name at all, but "Moncky." Charles Moncky, the inventor of it, sold his patent for $2000, and invested the money in a house in Williamsburg, Kings County, where he now lives.[7][8]

However, this was refuted by historical and patent research in the late nineteenth century.[2]

Cluedo token

The murder weapons from the game Clue!. The wrench token (seen to the far left) is commonly depicted as a monkey wrench.

The wrench token in the popular board game Cluedo/Clue! is in the shape of an American Coes monkey wrench, although in some traditional UK editions the token is instead shaped like an open ended spanner.

References and notes

  1. ^, "monkey," Houghton Mifflin, 1997: World English Dictionary entry, 5th def.
  2. ^ a b c "The Boston Wrench Group (Imported English coach wrenches or 18th w19th century American copies?)". Davistown Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  3. ^, Coes Wrench Co.
  4. ^ Alloy Artifacts, "Coes Wrench Company," 2005-2011
  5. ^ Alloy Artifacts, "Bemis & Call", 2005-2011
  6. ^ "'The Monkey Wrench' mill building at 143 Main St. in Springfield, MA".  Bemis & Call was acquired by a larger tool company in 1939. By the 2000s their old mill building on Main Street in the South End housed a commercial center known as "The Monkey Wrench.".
  7. ^ S.C. & L.M. Gould (1886). The Bizarre Notes and Queries in History, Folk-lore, Mathematics, Mysticism, Art, Science, Etc..,M1. 
  8. ^ William Rogers (1903, 1913). "Part 1: The Progressive Machinist". Rogers Machinists Guide. Theo. Audel & Company, New York.,M1. 

See also

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  • Monkey wrench — Wrench Wrench (r[e^]nch), n. [OE. wrench deceit, AS. wrenc deceit, a twisting; akin to G. rank intrigue, crookedness, renken to bend, twist, and E. wring. [root]144. See {Wring}, and cf. {Ranch}, v. t.] [1913 Webster] 1. Trick; deceit; fraud;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • monkey wrench — n. a wrench with one movable jaw, adjusted by a screw to fit various sizes of a nut, etc.: see WRENCH ☆ throw a monkey wrench into Informal to disrupt the orderly functioning or realization of …   English World dictionary

  • monkey wrench — monkey ,wrench noun count a WRENCH that can be used to turn NUTS of different sizes throw a monkey wrench into something INFORMAL to spoil something by preventing it from happening the way it was planned …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • monkey wrench — n especially AmE 1.) a tool that is used to hold or turn things of different widths British Equivalent: adjustable spanner 2.) throw a monkey wrench in the works AmE informal to do something that will cause problems or spoil someone s plans… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • monkey wrench — ► NOUN ▪ a spanner with large adjustable jaws …   English terms dictionary

  • monkey wrench — noun adjustable wrench that has one fixed and one adjustable jaw • Syn: ↑monkey wrench • Hypernyms: ↑adjustable wrench, ↑adjustable spanner * * * noun, pl ⋯ wrenches [count] : a wrench that can be adjusted to grip or turn things of different… …   Useful english dictionary

  • monkey wrench — A tool which is similar to a pipe wrench. While a pipe wrench has teeth and a loosly mounted head that allows it to bite into the pipe and tighten as a strain is put on the handle, a monkey wrench has adjustable, smooth jaws that always remain… …   Dictionary of automotive terms

  • monkey wrench — monkeywrench monkeywrench, monkey wrench monkey wrench . A wrench or spanner which has one fixed and one adjustable jaw. Syn: monkey wrench. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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