Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Unique Relationship Between Brass Monkeys and Cold Weather

 With winter rapidly approaching across many parts of the U.S., it might be wise for you to know the historical connection between "cold weather" and "brass monkeys". I was stunned when I first heard this.  Since organizational leaders and local government public officials are often expected to know everything and have all the answers, hopefully this story will provide you with some information you can use in the future. 

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons on board. Those cannons fired heavy iron cannonballs. It was necessary for each ship to keep a good supply of cannonballs near each cannon should they be attacked by a hostile vessel.

The problem each ship faced was how to prevent the round cannonballs from rolling around the deck. The solution was to stack the cannonballs in a square-based pyramid with one ball on top which would rest on four which would rest on nine, which would rest on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 29 cannonballs could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.

There was only one problem with this method - how do you prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling about from under the others? The solution was the invention of a metal plate called a "Monkey" with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls resting in the indentations would quickly rust with the salt water spray. So to prevent the rusting problem, "Brass Monkeys" were developed.

Brass is not a perfect metal and few people are aware that brass contracts more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the wind temperatures on the ship dropped too far, the indentations in the brass monkeys would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs on the bottom tier would roll right off the monkey.

Therefore whenever the outside temperature fell to around 32 degrees, it was quite literally "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

Now I am thinking - like most people you probably thought this was an improper expression to use in public.

Hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson.  Remember learning can and should be fun .  That's the reason so many professional associations, business organizations and units of local government invite Gabe Gabrielsen to solve their problems and provide their employees and staffs with great educational programs.  


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