The History of Nutcrackers

Nutcrackers are a huge part of Christmas decorating. The most common nutcracker is the in the form of a wooden soldier, which we’ve had for about 200 years now. However, nut-cracking devices have had a long-stemming evolution for a few thousand years. Read on to learn more about the history of the nutcracker and how they evolved into today’s form.

Ancient Devices

Prior to any nutcracker device, early civilizations opened nuts with a rock. That’s right. They would simply smash a rock against the nuts to break apart shells that were too difficult to open. Pretty simple, right?

The earliest known nutcracker tools were made in the third or fourth century B.C. Even though these are primitive in comparison to the ones we have now, they often came with decorations or engravings. These nutcrackers were designed to the shape of pliers and worked the same way. By pushing the handles against each other with the nut in between, you could crack the shell open with very little effort.

Lever and Brass Nutcrackers

The next form of the nutcracker was the iron lever nutcracker of the 13th century. Lever nutcrackers gave first shape to the modern nutcracker appliances.  Much like the nutcrackers we are familiar with now, these versions started to feature animals or animal heads. In the dog design, for example, you would put the nut in the mouth of the “dog” and push its tail down to move its jaw upwards and crack the nut.

 Image Courtesy of eddie welker’s Flickr Page[/caption] Around the 14th and 15th centuries, brass nutcrackers started to surface. The brass nutcracker was similar to the B.C. version. These also worked in plier/handle form, except much smaller and with a more polished functionality. Around this time, the term “nutcracker” was also being used to categorize these products.

Wooden Nutcrackers

Wooden nutcrackers started to catch on in Europe during the 15th and 16th century. Carvers would sculpt small figurines out of local wood. This was popular in small towns of England and France. As far as the nut-cracking function goes, two pieces of wood were simply fastened together by a leather strap. When you lift the top piece to place a nut inside, the it would clamp down on the nut once you let go.

Around the 17th century, the screw nutcracker was invented. The screw nutcracker has an appearance of a spoon or a pipe, except the handle is a screw that goes in and out of the “bowl.” You would place a nut inside the bowl and twist the screw so it pushes the nut against the bowl’s inside for it to eventually crack. Although these devices caught on due to their practicality, the wooden sculpture nutcrackers continued to evolve.

Wooden Solider Nutcracker

The standing wooden soldier nutcracker, the iconic nutcracker that we know today, was first made in the Sonneberg and Ezerberge regions of eastern Germany in the early 19th century. In 1872, Wilhelm Fuchtner made the first commercial production of the wooden nutcrackers. Much like the lever nutcrackers, they operated by a handle in its back. When the lever is pushed down, the nutcracker’s jaw would move up and smash the nut placed in its mouth.

Even though the soldier is the iconic nutcracker image, there are several classic nutcracker figurines for different parts of the world. Here are a few common ones:

Brass crocodile


Cast-Iron Squirrel


Cast-Iron Dog

To find out more about the history of nutcrackers, we suggest you visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum website. Not only do they offer extensive history on the subject, but they also have images of thousands of interesting nutcrackers for you to enjoy!

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