Since the beginning of time, nuts have been a large part of the food supply, and therefore ways of opening nuts had to be created. Early civilizations opened nutshells with stones if they were too hard to open with teeth. The oldest known metal nutcracker dates to the third or fourth century B.C. Iron nutcrackers were first used in the 13th century and brass nutcrackers were used in the 14th and 15th centuries. At first, these metal nutcrackers were hand shaped, but in later centuries, hot metals were poured into molds.
Wooden nutcrackers were later introduced and were simply two pieces of wood fastened together by a leather strap or metal hinge. In the 15th and 16th centuries, wood carvers in France and England were creating beautiful wooden nutcrackers and by the 18th and 19th Centuries, carvers in Austria, Switzerland and northern Italy were producing nutcrackers in the likeness of animals and humans. Standing wooden nutcrackers in the form of soldiers and kings appeared in Germany by the 1800s, and 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”. Today many wooden toy soldier nutcrackers are manufactured in Germany to meet the demands of collectors in the U.S. This interest is renewed each year by the many productions of the Nutcracker Ballet.