Why do they call it a monkey wrench?

Why do they call it a monkey wrench? - Fix It Cape Town

The term “monkey wrench” is frequently used to refer to a type of adjustable wrench. It is a versatile tool that can be adjusted to fit various sizes of nuts and bolts. However, have you ever wondered how the term “monkey wrench” came to be? In this article, we will explore the origin of this term and its possible association with the tool’s inventor or its original use in Repairing monkey-powered machines.

The History of the Monkey Wrench

Before we delve into the origin of the term itself, it is important to understand the history of the monkey wrench as a tool. The monkey wrench was invented in the 19th century and quickly gained popularity due to its adjustable nature. It allowed users to easily tighten or loosen nuts and bolts of different sizes without the need for multiple tools. This practicality made it an essential tool in various industries.

The Origin of the Term “Monkey Wrench”

The origin of the term “monkey wrench” is a topic of debate among historians and etymologists. Let’s explore a few theories regarding its origin:

  1. Charles Moncky, a London blacksmith: One theory suggests that the term “monkey wrench” may have derived from Charles Moncky, a London blacksmith who is believed to have invented the tool. However, there is little historical evidence to support this claim.

  2. Monks and enslaved workers: Another theory suggests that the term originated from the use of the tool by monks and enslaved workers. These individuals were referred to as “monkeys” due to their resemblance to the primates. The tool they used, with its adjustable nature, became known as the “monkey wrench.”

  3. Monkey-powered machines: A more far-fetched theory suggests that the term “monkey wrench” was initially used to describe a tool used for repairing monkey-powered machines. While the concept of monkey-powered machines may seem unusual, it is said that they were used in some industries during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Debunking the Monkey-powered Machines Theory

Although the idea of monkey-powered machines might pique curiosity, there is little historical evidence to support this theory. The concept of using monkeys as a source of power is largely based on speculation and myths, rather than historical fact. While monkeys have been used for various tasks throughout history, the notion of using them to power machinery is not well-documented.

The Association with the Tool’s Inventor

As mentioned earlier, the theory that Charles Moncky was the inventor of the monkey wrench lacks substantial evidence. The tool predates any record of Moncky’s existence, making it unlikely that he is directly associated with the invention of the wrench.

The Association with Monks and Enslaved Workers

The theory that the term “monkey wrench” derived from the use of the tool by monks and enslaved workers is more plausible. The use of “monkey” as a term for individuals with certain physical or labor resemblances was not uncommon in the past. In this context, the tool became known as the “monkey wrench” due to its association with these workers. It is important to note that the term ‘monkey wrench’ has been used since the early 19th century and can be found in literature and early catalogs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Were monkeys really used to power machines?
A: While the concept of monkey-powered machines is often discussed, it lacks concrete evidence. The notion is largely based on myths and speculation rather than historical fact.

Q: Who invented the monkey wrench?
A: The exact origin of the monkey wrench is unknown, as no single individual can be definitively attributed to its invention. It is a tool that evolved over time based on the needs of various industries.

Q: How does a monkey wrench work?
A: A monkey wrench is an adjustable wrench with a movable jaw that can be adjusted to fit different sizes of nuts and bolts. It allows for easy tightening or loosening of various fasteners.


The term “monkey wrench” has a long and intriguing history, with several theories regarding its origin. While the association of the tool with Charles Moncky and monkey-powered machines has limited supporting evidence, the notion that it was used by monks and enslaved workers seems more plausible. Regardless of its origin, the monkey wrench remains a crucial tool in many fields, serving as a testament to human ingenuity in creating versatile and practical tools.

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