Brass Monkey

Sawadee Khrap

I just got a email from Jerry – Jerry was a seaman before he retired and therefore knows a plethera of sea related facts.  But, Here’s one he sent that apparently even he didn’t know:


 It was necessary to  keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannon on old war ships.   

 But how to prevent them from rolling about the deck was the problem.   

 The best storage method devised was to stack them as a square based pyramid,  

 with one ball on top, resting on four, resting on nine, which rested on sixteen.

Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be  stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.  

 There was only one  problem — how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others.

 The solution was a metal plate with 16 round  indentations, called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey.  

 But if this plate  were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it.  

 The  solution to the rusting problem was to make them of brass – hence,  Brass Monkeys.

 Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much  more and much faster than iron when chilled.   

 Consequently, when  the temperature dropped too far,  

 the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would come right off the monkey.

Thus, it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the  balls off a brass monkey.  

 And all this time, you thought that was just  a vulgar expression, didn’t you? 


Thanks Jerry –




One thought on “Brass Monkey”

  1. Patience is a virtue. This is proof, wait long enough and life’s mysteries will be solved. And no, I did not know this.

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