Sunday, January 16, 2005

Is It Cold Enough?

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck? The best storage method devised was 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 to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a "Monkey" with 16 round indentations.
However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make "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 cannonballs would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." (All this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn't you.)


  1. Oh, thats a good one, Pat!!!

  2. I've just went through 2 weeks of arctic air blasting my home and city and we had many issues with "Balls freezing of of brass monkeys"

    To bad that we don't have any brass monkeys around but a lot of frozen balls.

  3. OK, I can't read this blog at night either now, just as with Ogre, it puts me in danger of waking the 2 year old (nephew) across the hall!

  4. I love this kind of trivia! I'm sending it off to a friend who is really into old sailing ships and war vessels. He'll get a good laugh.