Update: Jack Johnson and The Wrench

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WORLD’S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN HEAVY WEIGHT CHAMPION AND INVENTOR OF 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.
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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.

6 COMMENTS

  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.

    Thanks!

    • 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”

        It continues to say “WORLD’S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN HEAVY WEIGHT CHAMPION AND INVENTOR OF 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.

  3. lp Snopes. Become a Founding Member!

    Fact Checks
    History
    Did Jack Johnson Invent the Monkey Wrench?
    Popular memes assert that former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson invented the monkey wrench, and that it was so named as a racial slur.
    DAN EVON
    PUBLISHED 14 DECEMBER 2015

    Claim
    The term “monkey wrench” was originally used to insult the tool’s African-American inventor Jack Johnson.

    Rating
    Mixture
    Mixture
    About this rating
    What’s True
    Boxer Jack Johnson patented a wrench in the 1920s.

    What’s False
    Jack Johnson did not invent what we now call a “monkey wrench,” nor did that term originate as a racial slur.

    Do you rely on Snopes reporting? Become a member today.

    Origin
    In mid-December 2015 a meme that claimed the term “monkey wrench” was first used as a derogatory term concerning its African-American inventor Jack Johnson, started circulating online:

    While the central theme of this meme (that white people used the term “monkey wrench” as a racial slur to demean its inventor) is false, there is some truth behind it. Jack Johnson was the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion and he did patent a wrench in 1922. Johnson’s patent, however, did not mark the invention of the first adjustable wrench, nor did it spawn the origin of the term “monkey wrench.” Johnson’s patent was merely an improvement on a previous design and had little bearing on the history of the tool, which can be traced back to the 1840s.

    In February 2005, the Jim Crow Museum published a brief history of the wrench in an attempt to answer a question about Jack Johnson and his 1922 patent:

    Did Jack Johnson invent the wrench?

    Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight boxing champion, patented a wrench (U.S. patent #1,413,121) on April 18, 1922. His patent was not the first for a wrench. Solymon Merrick of Springfield, Massachusetts, patented the first wrench in 1835. Charles Moncky, a Baltimore mechanic, invented the monkey wrench around 1858. Moncky’s wrench was named using a purposeful misspelling of his name. On September 9, 1913, Robert Owen Jr, of Shawnee, Ohio, received a patent for the “Double Acting Wrench” (ratchet wrench), arguably the most important advancement in wrench technology. Daniel C. Stillson, a steamboat firefighter, received a patented on September 13, 1870 for an invention later known as the Stillson pipe wrench.

    Jack Johnson, the inventor, represents little more than an interesting historical footnote. He owes his fame and infamy to his boxing exploits and his violation of social norms.

    While the Jim Crow Museum stated that the monkey wrench was named after its inventor, Charles Moncky, not all historians agree. Herb Page, for instance, wrote in a 2002 article entitled “Reach for the Wrench” in the Fine Tool Journal that Moncky was neither responsible for the tool’s invention nor its name, and that the latter stemmed from the wrench’s appearance:

    Of course, over the years, some speculation indicated that the original inventor, a man named Monk or Monck was responsible for the name. However, this has been refuted by diligent historical and patent research. New England industrial pioneers, Loring Coes and Laurin Trask, around the end of the 19th century related the more plausible account. They indicated that the term “monkey wrench” was already in use prior to Coes’ early patent (1841) and referred at that time to the earlier English type of adjustable wrench where you turned the handle to adjust the jaws.

    I now provide some further evidence to back up Coes and Trask’s allegation, in that a wrench labeled “Monkey Wrench” was depicted in the English tool catalogue issued by Timmins & Sons, which hails from the early to mid-1840s. Also, I show a very early English wrench from my collection that I reckon to be from about the same or an even earlier era. This item, with its rounded head and “twist the tail” (handle) to adjust the mouth feature, could easily inspire the image of a monkey. I conclude that the name came along with these early wrenches when they were shipped to America. This particular wrench is marked “5. Johnson Sheffield” with an “S.J.” in a flag logo and exhibits the very fine detailed workmanship characteristic of early Sheffield tools.

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