History of the term[edit | edit source]
The phrase to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery dates to 1918, although the metaphorical sense of throwing a monkey wrench, meaning an obstacle or hindrance, is a bit older. On 30 July, 1907, the Chicago Tribune published the following: It should look to them as if he were throwing a monkeywrench into the only market by visiting that Cincinnati circus upon the devoted heads of Kentucky's best customers.
The term monkeywrenching was also used in a more general sense, not specifically related to the environment, in the book 101 Things To Do 'Til the Revolution by Claire Wolfe. Wolfe used monkeywrenching to mean practical jokes and sabotage of what she saw as oppressive government agencies and policies in the United States. Although not herself sympathetic to the environmental movement, Claire Wolfe recommended Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang in her book as a reference for developing ideas which could be applied to any issue.