A Story from the era in our History when the world was filled with Sailing Ships and brave Sailors

In the heyday of the sailing ship, every vessel had to have cannons for protection. The cannons of the times required round iron cannon balls. Now, the ship's quartermaster wanted to store the cannon balls such that they could be of instant use when needed, yet not roll around the gun deck. The logical solution was to stack them in a square-based pyramid right next to the cannons. So, the top of the stack had one ball, the next level down had four, the next had nine, and finally the lowest had 16 balls. Thus, four levels comprised a stack of 30 cannon balls.

The only real problem was how to keep the bottom balls from popping out from under the weight of the balls on higher levels. To do this, they devised a flat metal plate, called a "monkey", with sixteen rounded indentations, one for each cannon ball in the bottom layer.

When iron metal was used to make this monkey"-plate, eventually the cannon-balls would rust to the plate, causing another problem. So, these plates came to be made of brass-alloy to prevent this rust problem--thus becoming named "brass-monkeys".

However, when temperatures drop in cold weather, brass contracts at a much greater degree than iron. So, as it got colder on the gun decks the indentations in the brass monkey would get smaller than the iron balls they were holding, and if the temperature got cold enough, the bottom layer of cannon-balls would pop out of the shallow indentations, spilling the entire pyramid all over the deck.

That moment was characterized, quite literally, as :

"COLD ENOUGH TO FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY."

See there? And all this time most of you thought us "Old Salts" were just talking dirty...... :)

Revised 2013 by Larry Gentleman