Nutcracker Museum

Bavarian Leavenworth, Washington

The History of Nutcrackers

Nuts have been a significant part of the food supply since the beginning of time, and over the years, man has created ingenious ways to open the shells.   


Excavations of early civilizations have revealed nutshells that were probably broken by stones when too hard for the teeth to crack.  Pitted stones used for cracking nuts have been found in various parts of the United States and Europe and have been dated back to the Archaic Period, 4,000 to 8,000 years ago.  These nomadic peoples would camp near the nut trees when it was time for the nuts to fall.  Kernels were eaten whole or ground to make flour or nut butters.


The oldest known metal nutcracker dates to the third or fourth century B.C. and is shown in a museum in Tarent, Italy.  The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum shows a bronze Roman nutcracker dated between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.  It was found in 1960 after being buried for over 1800 years.

 


Iron lever nutcrackers are shown in the Ironworks Museum in Rouen, France with some dating back to the 13th century, and brass nutcrackers are known to have existed in the 14th and 15th century.  At first these metal nutcrackers were hand wrought, but in later centuries, hot metals were poured into molds.  England became famous for its brass production and produced many nutcracker styles, and the United States was known for its cast iron products.


The first wooden nutcrackers were simply two pieces of wood fastened together by a leather strap or metal hinge.  By the 15th and 16th century, wood carvers in France and England were creating beautiful wooden nutcrackers.   They used the wood from their locality, but preferred boxwood because of its fine grain and uniform color.  Many of these delicately carved nutcrackers can be seen in the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum.

 


By the 18th and 19th Centuries carvers in Austria, Switzerland and northern Italy were producing many carved nutcrackers in the likeness of animals and humans.


The screw nutcrackers did not appear until the 17th century and at first these were simple in structure.  However, it was not long before artisans were carving and shaping intricate designs.

 

Standing wooden nutcrackers in the form of soldiers and kings were shown in the Sonneberg and Erzgebirge regions of Germany by 1800 and in 1830, the term "Nussknacker" appeared in the dictionary of the Brothers Grim.  It was defined as often in the form of a misshaped little man, in whose mouth the nut, by means of a leaver or screw, is cracked open.  In 1872 Wilhelm Fuchtner, known as the father of the nutcracker, made the first commercial production of nutcrackers using the lathe to create many of the same design.  The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum shows an 1880 miner of Wilhelm Fuchtner along with a miner presently made in the Fuchtner family workshops.


Today many wooden toy soldier nutcrackers are manufactured in Germany to meet the demands of the many collectors in the United States.  This interest is renewed each year by the many productions of the Nutcracker Ballet.  Collectors can now find designs in the characters from the ballet as well as hundreds of other designs.


Few nutcrackers have been produced in fragile materials such as ivory, bone and porcelain that still exist today, but some can be seen in the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. 


Many factors have contributed to the evolution of the nutcracker�s form, functionality and character�.the availability of materials, advances in production techniques, styles of the times, consumer demand, and even changes in the nuts themselves.  A study of nutcrackers is a study of history itself as they reflect the cultural values and innovations of the place and time of origin. 

 


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Federal ID #91-2143303

A Non-Profit 501(3)c Organization

 

Contact Us

735 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826

(509) 548-4573

7 Days a Week: 1PM - 5PM
May 1st thru December 31st

Days open will vary in the winter months.

Nutcracker Museum Mission Statement:

"To foster and encourage the interest of the general public of the importance of nuts in the diets of humans throughout history and in the evolution of the nutcracker. No other tool or collectible has shown such a wide diversity of material and design as the implements used to crack the hard shell of a nut".