“Monkey Wrench” a Derogatory Term for Inventor Jack Johnson-Fiction!-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
“Monkey wrench” is a derogatory term meant to insult the African heritage of the tool’s inventor, Jack Johnson.
The term “monkey wrench” is not a derogatory slight to Jack Johnson.
Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion did, however, patent improvements to the “double acting wrench” in April 1922. In his patent application, Johnson explained the improvements to the tool commonly known as the monkey wrench as such:
My invention relates to improvements in wrenches and has for its object to provide an improved wrench, which is of simple and durable construction, reliable in operation and easy and inexpensive to manufacture, which may be easily and readily adjusted and which is adapted-to exert a powerful gripping action upon the work.
Another objective is to provide an improved wrench of this character which in assembly presents a substantially unitary structure and which may be easily dissembled for purposes of replacement or repair.
Monkey wrenches had been in use long before Jack Johnson filed that patent, and there are a number of theories about how the term “monkey wrench” came to be. The term seems to have carried different meanings at different points in history, but the idea it was ever a derogatory reference to Jack Johnson’s African-American heritage is false.
A Baltimore mechanic named Charles Moncky invented the monkey wrench around 1858. The tool was originally named by using a “purposeful misspelling” of its inventor’s name, according to the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum. A number of patents filed in the years that followed made improvements to the wrench, and it became commonly used for steam locomotives and railroad car repair work.
As time passed, Charles Moncky, the original inventor of the monkey wrench, was largely forgotten. And the term “monkey wrench” slowly took on new meanings. There are theories that the name came to refer to the low status of shop workers who used them, or that the “monkeying” action used to loosen fittings with the wrench’s open jaws gave the wrench its name, the National Museum of American History reports:
The term “monkey” wrench may have come from the lowly place in the shop-tool hierarchy that a monkey wrench occupied: a skilled mechanic used a monkey wrench only when a solid, open-end wrench was not available to properly fit a bolt or nut in question, or when the head of the bolt or size of the nut was non-standard. The jaws of a monkey wrench were only grossly adjustable (unlike the fine adjustment on a modern crescent wrench) and usually made a poor or loose fit on the nut or bolt head. “Monkeying” off a nut or bolt with such a wrench often involved several tries to get the wrench to fit without its slipping off.
Also, the shape of the head lent itself to be using impromptu as a hammer, which of course damaged the wrench, causing the adjustment of its jaws to become even looser.
If a wrench slipped off a nut or bolt head — as monkey wrenches were prone to do — injury to the user was often the result.
Today, Jack Johnson is known for being the world’s first black heavyweight boxing champion — not an inventor. But Jack Johnson was also awarded two patents for a “theft-preventing device for vehicles.” The device was designed to the block a car’s fuel supply when used by an unauthorized person.