Tools to crack nuts have been around for a very long time. The tools are referenced in literature as early as the 14th century. But the carved soldier doll nutcrackers were not seen until the 17th century. German woodworkers at the time carved them and sold them alongside toys and puzzles. In time however they took on a festive role. You might be surprised that they were part of the Halloween tradition in regions of Britain and Scotland where Halloween was also known as Nutcrack Night.
One popular origin myth ascribes the origin to a contest with a reward offered by a wealthy German farmer who thought it took too much time to crack nuts. The villagers drew upon their professions to invent a nutcracker. The winner was the puppet maker and thus the levered strong jawed doll as we have come to know as a nutcracker.
Nutcrackers got their biggest boost in popularity with the famous popular ballet The Nutcracker Suite but the ballet wasn’t immediately popular. During this time the wood-carved human and animal heads were most popular. But in the 20th century, The Nutcracker Suite became an American hit.
World War II actually boosted the popularity of the nutcracker when American soldiers stationed in West Germany began to purchase the nutcracker figurine soldiers and send them home as Christmas gifts.
If you are interested in learning more about Nutcrackers consider visiting the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum in Levenworth, Washington.