A nutcracker with a functional design

A nutcracker is a mechanical device for cracking nuts. Usually they work on the principle of moments as described in Archimedes' analysis of the lever. The earliest use of the term nutcracker in English dates to 1481.



Manufacturers produce modern nutcrackers — designed to crack hazel or cob nuts — usually somewhat resembling pliers, but with the pivot point at the end beyond the nut, rather than in the middle. These are also used for cracking the shells of crab and lobster to make the meat inside available for eating.

Parrots use their beaks as natural nutcrackers, in much the same way smaller birds crack seeds. In this case, the pivot point stands opposite the nut, at the jaw.


A collection of Nutcrackers
A variety of figure nutcrackers

Nutcrackers in the form of wooden carvings of a soldier, knight, king, or other profession have existed since at least the 15th century. These nutcrackers portray a person with a large mouth which the operator opens by lifting a lever in the back of the figurine. Originally one could insert a nut in the big-toothed mouth, press down and thereby crack the nut. Modern nutcrackers in this style serve mostly for decoration, mainly at Christmas time. The ballet The Nutcracker derives its name from this festive holiday decoration.

The carving of nutcrackers—as well as of religious figures and of cribs—developed as a cottage industry in forested rural areas of Germany. The most famous nutcracker carvings come from Sonneberg in Thuringia (also a center of dollmaking) and from the Ore Mountains. Wood-carving usually provided the only income for the people living there. Today the travel industry supplements their income by bringing visitors to the remote areas.

Steinbach Nutcrackers have become popular in the United States as well, and the recreated "Bavarian village" of Leavenworth, Washington, even features a nutcracker museum. Many other materials also serve to make decorated nutcrackers, such as porcelain, silver, and brass; the museum displays samples.

Carvings by famous names like Junghanel, Klaus Mertens, Karl, Olaf Kolbe, Petersen, Christian Ulbricht and especially the Steinbach nutcrackers have become collectors' items.

Decorative brass populuxe nutcracker by the industrial designer Maurice Ascalon

The United States Postal Service (USPS) in October 2008 issued four stamps with Nutcrackers for the first time. These featured custom-made Nutcrackers made by Richmond, Virginia, artist Glenn Crider.

See also

  • Wooden toymaking in the Ore Mountains

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nutcracker — Nut crack er, n. 1. An instrument for cracking nuts. [1913 Webster] 2. (Zo[ o]l.) (a) A European bird ({Nucifraga caryocatactes}), allied to the magpie and crow. Its color is dark brown, spotted with white. It feeds on nuts, seeds, and insects.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Nutcracker — Nutcracker, The (1892) a ↑ballet with music by Tchaikovsky about a girl who dreams that her ↑nutcracker becomes a prince. It is one of the most popular ballets, and is often performed at Christmas …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • nutcracker — [nut′krak΄ər] n. 1. an instrument for cracking the shells of nuts, usually consisting of two hinged metal levers, between which the nut is squeezed 2. either of two jaylike corvid birds that feed on nuts; specif., a white spotted, dark brown… …   English World dictionary

  • nutcracker — /nut krak euhr/, n. 1. an instrument or device for cracking the shells of nuts. 2. any of several corvine birds of the genus Nucifraga that feed on nuts, as the common nutcracker, N. caryocatactes, of Europe and Clark s nutcracker, N. columbiana …   Universalium

  • nutcracker — UK [ˈnʌtˌkrækə(r)] / US [ˈnʌtˌkrækər] noun [countable] Word forms nutcracker : singular nutcracker plural nutcrackers a tool for breaking open the shells of nuts …   English dictionary

  • nutcracker — [[t]nʌ̱tkrækə(r)[/t]] nutcrackers N COUNT A nutcracker is a device used to crack the shell of a nut. Nutcrackers can be used to refer to one or more of these devices …   English dictionary

  • nutcracker — /ˈnʌtkrækə/ (say nutkrakuh) noun 1. (often plural) an instrument for cracking nuts. 2. either of two corvine birds of the genus Nucifraga which feed on nuts, as the spotted nutcracker, N. caryocatactes, of Eurasia …   Australian English dictionary

  • Nutcracker — riešutinė statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Nucifraga caryocatactes angl. Nutcracker vok. Tannenhäher …   Paukščių anatomijos terminai

  • nutcracker — riešutinės statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Nucifraga angl. nutcracker rus. кедровка, f; ореховка, f pranc. cassenoix, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – varniniai siauresnis terminas – amerikinė riešutinė siauresnis terminas… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • nutcracker — noun Date: circa 1548 an implement for cracking nuts …   New Collegiate Dictionary