Unraveling the Mystery: Why is it Called a Monkey Wrench?

Greetings! Today, we embark on a fascinating journey into the world of tools, specifically the monkey wrench. Have you ever wondered where its peculiar name came from? I have too, so let’s explore together.

In this section, we will delve into the intriguing origins of the monkey wrench and explore the various theories behind its peculiar name. We will trace its historical roots and examine its evolution over time, as well as provide a clear definition of what a monkey wrench is and its distinctive features and functions.

Key Takeaways

  • The monkey wrench has a unique name that has intrigued many.
  • There are various theories and speculations surrounding the origin of its name.
  • The monkey wrench has a distinct appearance and function that sets it apart from other wrenches.

The History of the Monkey Wrench

Hailing back to the 19th century, the monkey wrench is a tool that has stood the test of time. But where did it come from and how did it get its unique name?

The etymology of the term “monkey wrench” is widely debated, but there are a few theories that seem to hold true. Some believe that the word “monkey” was used as a prefix to indicate that this type of wrench was meant for light work, much like how “monkey” has been used to describe small or miniature versions of things. Others believe that the term came from a type of tool used by English coachmakers, which was then referred to as a “screw wrench” or “key wrench,” and eventually evolved into the monkey wrench we know today.

Regardless of its name, the monkey wrench’s design has evolved over time. Originally, it had straight jaws and was used to tighten or loosen nuts and bolts. Later, L-shaped handles were added to provide more leverage, making it easier to use. Today, the monkey wrench comes in various sizes and shapes to accommodate different types of work, but its basic function remains the same.

The Monkey Wrench Origin Story

The monkey wrench is said to have been invented by Charles Moncky in 1858. Moncky, a Swedish immigrant, came up with the design for the monkey wrench while working as a blacksmith in Worcester, Massachusetts. He filed a patent for his creation in 1859, but the patent was eventually invalidated because a similar design had already been patented in England.

Despite this setback, Moncky’s invention became widely popular and was soon being produced by various tool companies. The monkey wrench is now considered a staple in the toolboxes of mechanics and DIY enthusiasts alike.

So, there you have it – the history and origin of the monkey wrench. While its name may still be shrouded in mystery, its usefulness and durability continue to stand the test of time.

What is a Monkey Wrench?

Before we can understand why it’s called a monkey wrench, let’s first define what it actually is. A monkey wrench is a type of adjustable wrench with smooth, parallel jaws that can be adjusted to fit different sized bolts and nuts. It is commonly used in plumbing and mechanical work to tighten or loosen bolts.

The distinctive feature of a monkey wrench is its wide, flat jaws, which provide a large surface area to grip onto the bolt or nut. This allows for a secure and strong grip, helping to prevent slipping or rounding of the fastener.

It’s important to note that while the monkey wrench and its adjustable jaws are similar to other types of wrenches, such as the pipe wrench, they are not interchangeable. Each type of wrench is designed for specific purposes and should be used accordingly.

The Monkey Wrench Theory

One of the most common questions surrounding the monkey wrench is why it is called as such. While there are several theories on the origin of the name, one particularly intriguing theory stands out.

The theory goes that the term “monkey wrench” comes from the name of the tool’s inventor, Charles Moncky. According to the theory, Moncky, a mechanic in the Massachusetts area, designed the wrench in the mid-19th century and named it after himself. Over time, the pronunciation of Moncky’s name evolved, eventually resulting in the name “monkey wrench.”

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The Connection between Moncky and the Wrench

While there is no concrete evidence to support this theory, it does seem plausible. For one, the name “Moncky” was not uncommon in the Massachusetts area during the 19th century. Additionally, the word “monkey” was sometimes used during this time as slang for anything small or insignificant, which could have given rise to the use of the term “monkey wrench” for a small wrench.

The theory might also explain why the monkey wrench is sometimes referred to as a “gas wrench.” It is said that Moncky’s invention was specifically designed for use on gas fixtures and pipes.

Another theory suggests that the term “monkey wrench” comes from the tool’s resemblance to the jaws of a monkey. However, this theory has been largely discredited, as it is difficult to see any similarity between a monkey’s jaws and the design of the wrench.

Regardless of the true origin of the monkey wrench’s name, it remains a unique and fascinating tool with a long history and many possible explanations.

Monkey Wrench vs. Other Wrenches

When discussing the meaning of the monkey wrench, it’s important to compare and contrast it with other types of wrenches.

One major difference between the monkey wrench and other wrenches is its adjustability. Unlike a standard wrench, which is designed to fit a specific size of nut or bolt, the jaws of a monkey wrench can be adjusted to fit various sizes.

Another unique feature of the monkey wrench is its curved shape. This design allows for better leverage when turning nuts and bolts, making it a preferred tool for many mechanics.

But where does the name “monkey wrench” fit into all of this? Interestingly, the term “monkey wrench” is actually used mostly in the United States. In other parts of the world, this particular type of wrench is more commonly referred to as an “adjustable wrench” or a “spanner wrench.”

So why the discrepancy? It’s hard to say for sure, but some have suggested that the name “monkey wrench” may have originated from the tool’s association with the circus. In the late 19th century, traveling circuses were hugely popular in America, and most of them employed a “monkey man” or “monkey woman” – a performer who would climb, swing, and somersault from one end of the tent to the other.

It’s possible that the monkey wrench received its name because the tool’s adjustable jaws resembled the monkey’s ability to grasp objects of different sizes. Alternatively, the name could have come from the monkey man’s ability to adapt to different challenges, just like the monkey wrench can be adapted to fit various nuts and bolts.

Regardless of its origin, the monkey wrench has certainly made its mark in the world of tools. Its unique design and adjustable jaws have made it a must-have for many DIY enthusiasts and professional mechanics alike.

The Monkey Wrench in Pop Culture

As a journalist, I find it fascinating to explore how the monkey wrench has permeated popular culture. Its quirky name and unique features have made it a beloved tool for writers, filmmakers, and artists alike.

One notable example is the 2000 film “The Perfect Storm,” which features Mark Wahlberg’s character using a monkey wrench to fix a hook on a fishing line. The tool becomes a symbol of resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of a dangerous situation.

The term “monkey wrench” has also found its way into daily language, often used metaphorically to describe a disruptive or unexpected event. For example, someone might say “the pandemic threw a monkey wrench into our plans” to describe how the situation disrupted their original plans.

Fun Fact: The term “throwing a monkey wrench” actually originated from a practical joke in which someone threw a monkey wrench into a machine to cause it to malfunction. The term later became synonymous with any obstacle that disrupts or derails a process.

In literature, the monkey wrench has appeared in a range of works, from Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” to the children’s book “Curious George Gets A Medal.” Its name also appears in music, with bands like The Living End and The Foo Fighters referencing the tool in their lyrics.

All in all, the monkey wrench’s presence in pop culture serves as a testament to its endurance and versatility. Its name has become a part of our everyday language, and its unique design continues to capture our imaginations.

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Alternative Names for the Monkey Wrench

During my research, I discovered that the monkey wrench has been referred to by a variety of names throughout history. These names have often been regionally or culturally specific, highlighting the diversity of this tool’s usage and recognition.

One common alternative name for the monkey wrench is the “gas grip wrench,” which was used extensively in the early days of the automobile industry. Another name that’s been used is the “Ford wrench,” because Henry Ford himself reportedly used the tool for his cars’ assembly lines.

Interestingly, the monkey wrench is also known in some places as the “pipe wrench,” due to its ability to grip and turn cylindrical objects like pipes. In Australia, it’s even called a “Stilson wrench,” after the inventor of a similar type of wrench named Daniel Stillson.

Did you know?: In England and other parts of Europe, the monkey wrench is commonly known as the “adjustable spanner.”

There are many other names for the monkey wrench, including the “Crescent wrench” and the “Finnish wrench,” which are popular in different parts of the world. These names highlight the unique local uses and contexts for the monkey wrench, and demonstrate how diverse tool names can be.

As you can see, the monkey wrench has a multitude of names, reflecting its widespread usage across various industries and regions.

The Monkey Wrench: Folklore and Urban Legends

As a renowned tool with an unusual name, the monkey wrench has inspired a variety of myths and legends over the years. Some of these tales have been passed down through generations, while others have sprung up more recently. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most interesting folklore and urban legends surrounding the monkey wrench.

The Curse of the Monkey Wrench

One of the most enduring legends surrounding the monkey wrench is the curse of the tool. According to this story, anyone who used a monkey wrench to fix a problem would suffer a string of bad luck. The curse was said to be particularly potent for those who had angered the monkey god, Hanuman, who was believed to be associated with the wrench. While there’s no evidence to suggest that the curse is real, many people still believe in its power to this day.

The Haunted Monkey Wrench

Another popular legend has it that a monkey wrench used by a worker who died on the job has been haunting a garage for years. According to the story, the ghostly wrench would move on its own, making eerie rattling noises and causing tools to go missing. While this might sound like a tall tale, there have been numerous reports of haunted tools over the years, so who knows?

The Monkey Wrench and the Moon Landing

One of the more bizarre monkey wrench legends involves the tool’s alleged role in the moon landing. According to this myth, a monkey wrench was accidentally left on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, and it has been there ever since. While this makes for an interesting story, it’s unlikely to be true as no wrench was used during the moon landing.

Despite these and other myths surrounding the monkey wrench, the tool remains a popular and useful fixture in many households and workplaces across the country. While we may never know for sure why it’s called a monkey wrench, we can still appreciate its unique place in American folklore.

The Monkey Wrench Today

Although the monkey wrench has been around for centuries, it continues to be a valuable tool in modern times. This versatile wrench is commonly used by mechanics, plumbers, and DIY enthusiasts alike.

One reason the monkey wrench remains popular is its ability to adjust to different sized nuts and bolts. This makes it a handy tool to have in any toolbox, saving time and effort when working on various projects.

In addition to its functionality, the monkey wrench also holds a unique place in popular culture. Its name has been used metaphorically in music, literature, and even politics.

For example, the term “throw a monkey wrench” is a well-known idiom that means to cause a disruption or halt progress. This phrase is often used in the context of debates over government policy or business decisions.

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The monkey wrench has also entered the realm of fashion and style. Its distinctive shape and rugged appearance have inspired jewelry and clothing designs, making it a popular choice for those who appreciate industrial aesthetics.

Overall, the monkey wrench remains relevant and useful in modern times, proving that a tool’s name can transcend its original purpose and become a cultural icon.


In conclusion, the mystery of why the monkey wrench is called by such a peculiar name has been unraveled. Through exploring its history, theories, and cultural significance, I gained a deeper understanding of this intriguing tool and its quirky name. The monkey wrench has come a long way since its inception, proving to be an indispensable tool in many industries. Its name has transcended its original purpose and has become a metaphor for anything that can fix a problem quickly and efficiently. Although there are alternative names used to refer to the monkey wrench, its distinctive features and functions set it apart from other types of wrenches. Furthermore, the presence of the monkey wrench in popular culture, literature, and movies demonstrates its impact beyond just being a tool. Overall, the fascinating story behind the monkey wrench and the theories surrounding it will continue to intrigue and spark curiosity. As we move towards the future, we cannot wait to see what the monkey wrench will bring.

Is a Socket Wrench the Same as a Monkey Wrench?

A socket wrench and a monkey wrench are not the same. While a monkey wrench is an adjustable tool with serrated jaws, a socket wrench is designed for turning different size nuts and bolts. A socket wrench uses detachable socket heads to fit various sizes, making it versatile for different fastening tasks. So, what is a socket wrench? It’s a specialized tool for precise tightening or loosening with interchangeable sockets.


Q: Why is it called a monkey wrench?

A: The monkey wrench is believed to have been named after the inventor, Charles Monk, who patented an early version of the wrench in the 1840s.

Q: What is the history of the monkey wrench?

A: The monkey wrench has a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. It evolved from earlier adjustable wrenches and gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution.

Q: What is a monkey wrench?

A: A monkey wrench is a type of adjustable wrench characterized by its movable jaw, allowing it to fit various sizes of nuts and bolts. It is commonly used in plumbing and mechanical work.

Q: Why is it called a monkey wrench tool?

A: The origin of the name is still debated. One theory suggests that the name “monkey wrench” was derived from the idea that the tool’s adjustable jaw mimics a monkey’s ability to grasp objects.

Q: How is a monkey wrench different from other wrenches?

A: Unlike other wrenches, the monkey wrench has a movable jaw that can be adjusted to fit different sizes. This versatility makes it a popular choice for a wide range of applications.

Q: How is the monkey wrench referenced in pop culture?

A: The monkey wrench has made appearances in literature, movies, and other media. Its name is often used metaphorically to describe a disruptive or unexpected element in a situation.

Q: Are there any alternative names for the monkey wrench?

A: While “monkey wrench” is the most commonly used name, it is also known by alternative names such as “adjustable wrench” or “English wrench” in some regions.

Q: Are there any urban legends or folklore associated with the monkey wrench?

A: There are various urban legends and folklore surrounding the monkey wrench, but it is important to approach them with skepticism as they often lack concrete evidence.

Q: How is the monkey wrench used in modern times?

A: Despite advancements in technology, the monkey wrench remains a valuable tool in many industries. Its name has become part of the cultural lexicon, representing adaptability and versatility.

Q: What have we learned about the monkey wrench?

A: Through exploring its history, theories, and cultural significance, we have gained a deeper understanding of this intriguing tool and its quirky name.