Update: Jack Johnson and The Wrench




Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas and spent his teenage life working on boats and city docks. He began boxing at age 19, and since he stood 6’1″ and weighed 192 pounds, he quickly instilled fear in his opponents and made a name for himself.

Jack was cocky and confident, and almost always defeated everyone he fought. Of 113 fights, Jack won 79 matches — 44 of them by knockout. One of these wins won him the “colored Heavyweight Championship” on February 3, 1903.

In 1908, Jack defeated Tommy Burns in the 14th round and became the first African american Heavyweight Champion of the World. He held this title until he was knocked out by Jess Willard in the 26th round, on April 1915.

Although Jack was a one-of-a-kind athlete, many people were unmoved by his charms. His World Heavyweight Championship win inspired a quest to find a “great white hope”–a white man who could defeat him and restore the title back to where many whites felt it belonged.

James Jeffries — “the great white hope”–came out of retirement to take the title back from Jack, but he was quickly defeated. This defeat inspired white-on-black violence all over the United States.

The story behind Jack Johnson’s invention is an interesting one, and is often left out of the biographies, documentaries and articles about him. Jack openly broke the hard social rules of his day and dated white women. He was eventually arrested for taking his white girlfriend (who later became his wife) across state lines, and was convicted of this crime and sentenced to a year in Federal prison.

While incarcerated, Jack found the need for a tool that would help him loosen or tighten fastening devices. Since there was no such tool, Jack simply crafted his own, designing it with a powerful gripping action and the ability to be quickly disassembled for replacement or repair.

Jack called his new invention a “wrench,” and patented it on April 18, 1922.

In Jack’s later years, he opened a nightclub in Harlem, which later became known as The Cotton Club. He was killed in a car crash at age 68 on June 10, 1946 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.


  1. Typo: The article states that Jack Johnson lost to Jess Willard in 1959. That can’t be the correct date, because it was after Johnson died and after he was inducted into the hall of fame.

    I would also love to know more about the wrench he invented. I’ve seen some claims going around the internet that he invented the “monkey wrench” and that it was offensively named the “monkey” wrench because its inventor (Johnson) was of African descent. However, apparently the monkey wrench was patented in 1841, so Johnson’s wrench must be another one. This article comes up as a first search, so it could be useful in answering this question for a lot of people.


    • Hi Aaron,
      Thank you! That was indeed a typo. The knockout happened in 1915. We truly appreciate your contribution. This project is ongoing and we are always happy to add (or in this case, delete!) information that will enhance the article.

      As for Johnson’s wrench, it was really an improvement on an earlier wrench. As you can see in this article, it’s not that the wrench didn’t exist when he needed one, it’s that a wrench that did what he needed it to do didn’t exist.

      Again, thanks so much. You are greatly appreciated. 🙂

      • The title of this article is “Jack Johnson and The Monkey Wrench”


        Charles Moncky, the inventor, sold his patent for $5000.

        Before that, 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.

        The title of the Article is misleading.

        • 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.

          A special thanks for this info, Bob. Someone else (see comment below) was asking about the term “Monkey Wrench” so you have effectively answered his question. I wasn’t aware that it was supposed to be a derogatory term in the first place. Thanks for shedding some light.

  2. Hi…you stated that Jack Johnson invented a tool to help him tighten things because no tool existed. That is untrue. The “wrench” was invented in 1835 by Solymon Merrick and others had alterations to it just like Jack Johnson but he didn’t “invent” it. Also in case you were wondering the “monkey” wrench has nothing to do with a racial slur either. It was invented in 1858 by Charles Moncky but the papers purposely misspelled his name when they reported it.


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