| March 2003

Uncovering the origins of a toolbox requisite

All right students, today's column starts off with a quiz. What do linoleum, kerosene, super glue, escalators, cellophane, zippers, Xerox copies and crescent wrenches have in common? Give up? All those well-known product names were once - and many still are - registered trademarks for a specific brand. Today, they're known and used widely as generic names for familiar products, but can be made by many manufacturers.

This column is about the ubiquitous Crescent wrench - which should actually be called an adjustable wrench - found in the toolbox of virtually every rusty iron lover, mechanic and farmer. In fact, many 'complete' tool kits consist of a pair of pliers, a screwdriver and a Crescent wrench that doubles as a hammer.

The origins of the adjustable wrench are unclear, but several Americans and two Swedes were definitely involved in its development.

One of the earliest records that mentions such a wrench is a patent issued in May 1852 to Andrew Hotchkiss of Sharon, Conn. The Hotchkiss wrench looks very much like the monkey wrench, often found at flea markets and antique shops.

In December 1856, Orin O. Witherall of New York City patented a peculiar wrench. It sported a movable jaw fastened to a tenon that slid through a mortise in the other jaw, and was clamped in place by an eccentric lever on the handle.

On June 9, 1857, Edward J. Worcester from Worcester, Mass., patented what he called an 'Improved Screw-Wrench.' Worcester claimed in the patent application that, 'My wrench by having a rack and screw to operate its jaw and a handle stationary relatively to the stationary jaw presents advantages over (Witherall's patent), as the movable jaw can be better supported and the handle being in one piece with the stationary jaw is not so liable to break or separate from the same as when it acts as a lever and turns on a fulcrum attached to each jaw.'