The Monkey Wrench [Definition, Origin & A Lot More]

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Monkey Wrench

On a rainy Monday night working in my garage, my brother and I got to wondering about monkey wrenches. Stuff like,  Why is it called a monkey wrench and what exactly is it?

You see, we thought it was another name for a pipe wrench and that’s not the case, as you”ll find out later in this post.

So, I decided to do some research on it to find out all I could about monkey wrenches and this is what I was able to come up with.

Why is it Called a Monkey Wrench

There are 2 theories behind why it’s called a monkey wrench, that I could Find.

  1. There are some articles online that say, Jack Johnson, who is African American, invented the monkey wrench. And the term monkey can be used as a racial slur. So, you put 1 and 1 together and you have it, a monkey wrench. That turns out to be false. (Thankfully)
  2. The other theory is that Charles Moncky made the monkey wrench and as a play of words, people said monkey wrench instead of Moncky wrench. But that turned out to be false as Mr. Moncky was born after the wrench was invented. Which makes it a tad impossible for him to be the namesake and inventor.

Monkey Wrench Inventor

Again, I have read that It is named after the guy who supposedly invented it, Charles Moncky. He later sold his patent of the monkey wrench for 5 grand. But that turned out to be false.

I have also read that legendary boxer Jack Johnson patented the monkey wrench which also turned out to be false. So apparently no one knows who named it or at least I couldn’t find anything that is true anyway. So, double check if you do find the answer! The answer might be a load of monkey crap!

The best I could come up with is the inventor of the wrench and that is Solymon Merrick. There is very little info on him so there isn’t much I can tell you.

What It Is

A monkey wrench or as it’s known in the UK, a gas grips, is similar to a pipe wrench with one minor difference. The jaws on a monkey wrench are smooth and won’t leave marks on whatever you choose to use it for.

The nice thing about monkey wrenches is their dual purpose. They can be used for a hammer also. The is a flat metal piece behind the top jaw that can be used for hammering.

Throw A Monkey Wrench Meaning

“Throw a monkey wrench into” something is a British phrase that simply means to foil, disrupt, sabotage, frustrate, or cause problems to a project, activity, or a plan.

This phrase is more commonly used in its longer form- “Throw a monkey wrench into the works”.

It is actually in American English and is just the same as the older British term, “To throw a spanner in the works”. In this case, a “spanner” is the British term that means “wrench” in American English.

The basic meaning of this phrase is quite straightforward and gets its origin from the old industrial age. If you can picture people working in medieval industries with the big machines and heavy wrenches;

if someone managed to drop or throw a massive wrench into a machine (represented by “the works”), it could surely jam up everything pretty badly and bring the activities of the industry to a stop, and for quite some time.


This history of the phrase apparently alludes to the actions of the “Luddites”. This was a labor movement in the UK that was formed in the early 1800s to stand up against the adverse effects that industrialization was causing to their working and living conditions.

It is believed that those protesting would literally pick up spanners and throw them into the industrial machines with the intention of damaging or destroying them.

The numerous spanners clogging the machine meant that this plan actually worked.

The phrase can be used in a sentence as follows: “I spent the whole afternoon in the salon getting my hair and makeup done, but my boyfriend’s missed flight threw a monkey wrench into our plans for a romantic evening.” –

This is to say that the fact your boyfriend couldn’t catch his flight meant that the romantic evening the two of you had planned is no more.

Monkey Wrench vs Pipe Wrench

Truth be told, For most of my life, I always thought a pipe wrench was a monkey wrench, that is not so. The biggest difference is the jaws on both wrenches.

Pipe wrench has grooved teeth so it grips better. A monkey wrench doesn’t have grooved teeth its jaws are smooth.

A pipe wrench is a step up from a monkey wrench because of it’s grooved teeth. It can do any job that the monkey wrench can. But the monkey wrench is limited because it slips more than a pipe wrench because or the smooth jaws.


Tightening or loosening nuts and bolts that are on tight or that you want to make super snug. The monkey wrench has a longer handle than a regular wrench, which will give you more torque when your turning. Which is a plus if the nut and bolt are rusted.

Antique Monkey Wrenches

Monkey wrenches can be tough to find because they’re not made anymore. But, if your looking to buy one the best place to look would be eBay. Here is a link to the monkey wrenches on eBay, eBay Monkey Wrenches. You could also check out other sites like, craigslist and facebook groups.


To the best of my knowledge, no one knows why it called a monkey wrench. If you think you know, leave a comment below because I’d like to know too. The great monkey wrench mystery continues!


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