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Who Invented Tongs: Tracing the Origins and Evolution of a Timeless Tool

July 22, 2023 7 min read

Who Invented Tongs: Tracing the Origins and Evolution of a Timeless Tool - Maria's Condo

Just as the wheel, the lever, and the inclined plane enhanced early human capabilities with their simple, yet effective designs, the humble pair of tongs stands tall in the annals of human ingenuity. A tool of such basic structure, it has proven time and again its irreplaceable value in various facets of human life. From the kitchen to the blacksmith shop, from the dining table to the scientific laboratory, the tongs have been an unsung hero, tirelessly serving its purpose.


1: Unfolding the History of Tongs

The beginnings of the tongs are shrouded in the mists of antiquity. The earliest evidence of tongs dates back to a time when human civilization was just beginning to understand the potential of tools. The birthplace of tongs, as it seems, was in the heart of the ancient world.

1.1 The First Tongs: An Egyptian Innovation

It is widely believed that the first tongs were conceived in Ancient Egypt around 1450 BC, as per archaeological records. These early versions were likely simple wooden implements, used to manipulate hot items around a fire.

Later advancements saw these tongs being crafted from bronze around 3000 BC, marking a significant leap in the tool's evolution. The Egyptians, known for their profound intellectual curiosity and innovation, recognized the potential of these tools. They expanded their usage beyond mere cooking, using them to handle objects over fire and even for metalworking.

1.2 The Chinese Contribution

While the Egyptians were the first to develop tong-like tools, the Ancient Chinese also played a crucial role in the popularization of tongs. In the tumultuous Warring States Period (475 BC to 221 BC), the renowned philosopher Mozi is believed to have invented tongs in China.

Another pivotal figure in this tale is Li Shao-Chun, a blacksmith from the 2nd century CE. Li's creation of tongs, primarily for cooking and harvesting crops, greatly simplified his work and marked a significant step in the advancement of tongs.

2: The Many Faces of Tongs

Tongs come in various shapes and sizes, each adapted to serve a specific purpose. From the tongs used to flip a steak on the grill to the ones used to handle dangerous chemicals in a lab, each type of tong has its own unique story.

2.1 The Birth of Kitchen Tongs

The story of kitchen tongs begins as early as the 1st century A.D., where they were primarily used for placing food in cooking pots. Over time, their use transitioned from cooking to serving, becoming commonplace in 17th-century Europe. Walter Hunt, who patented his design in 1829, is often credited as the inventor of the modern kitchen tongs.

2.2 The Emergence of Salad Tongs

The invention of salad tongs can be traced back to 1835, credited to Erastus Dow Palmer, a Vermont native. His wooden salad tongs, dubbed “Mr. Palmer’s Salad Tongs,” were sold in New York City for fifty cents a pair.

2.3 Tongs in the Beauty Industry: Curling Tongs

The beauty industry also saw the ingenious application of tongs. Jean-Jacques Perret, a Frenchman, invented curling tongs in 1706. This handheld device, made of copper, was designed to create even and consistent curls by ensuring uniform heat distribution.

The electric curling tongs we see today were introduced in the late 1950s by John Frieda. This innovation revolutionized hair styling, making it possible for individuals to curl their hair at home without the need for salon visits.

2.4 Tongs in the Smithy: The Crucible Tongs

In the 19th century, blacksmith John Mudge introduced crucible tongs. These steel tongs were used to handle hot metal pieces during forging, significantly reducing the risk of burns.

2.5 The Rise of Grilling and BBQ Tongs

Grilling tongs, a staple in every barbecue lover's arsenal, were the invention of Leslie Baumer in 1963. These tongs made handling hot meats over open flames much safer and more convenient.

Barbecue tongs, similar to grilling tongs, are believed to have originated in England during the 19th century. Initially used to lift meat from hot coals, these tongs gained worldwide popularity by the mid-20th century.

3: The Science of Tongs

Tongs are not just about moving objects or turning food over. Their utility extends to scientific laboratories, where they are used for handling small or hot objects.

3.1 Tongs in Science Labs

In a scientific setting, tongs are used to hold small objects too delicate for human hands. They also provide a barrier between the user and the object being held, thus protecting the user from potential injuries.

3.2 The Role of Crucible Tongs

Crucible tongs, usually made of stainless steel, are designed to handle hot crucibles. They form a protective barrier between human hands and the hot crucible, preventing burns.

3.3 Beaker Tongs: Handling Glassware

Beaker tongs are specially designed to hold beakers and other glassware. The open metal handle offers a secure grip, while the curved metal hook and the two arms at the end, shaped like hooks, provide a secure hold on the beaker's rim.

4: The Versatility of Tongs

The versatility of tongs is demonstrated by their numerous applications beyond kitchens and labs. From hairstyling to farming, tongs have proven their worth.

4.1 Tongs in Hairstyling

Hair tongs are used to curl hair. They can also straighten hair, although they do not offer the same results as flat irons or curling irons. Depending on whether they are used on wet or dry hair, hair tongs can produce varying results, from loose waves to tight curls.

4.2 Tongs in Farming

Teat tongs are used in farming to clean a cow's teats before milking. They also allow farmers to inspect the udder for any abnormalities or injuries.

5: Tongs Across Cultures

The use of tongs is not confined to any one culture or geographical area. They have been used by blacksmiths and metalworkers in Ancient Greece and Rome to handle hot metal. They were also used to turn meat skewered over a fire. In Medieval Europe, tongs were used to grab hot metal from fireplaces and place it in pots for cooking.

6: Reshaping Tongs: The Journey from Bronze to Stainless Steel

Tongs have evolved over centuries, adapting to the needs of different times and cultures. The first known use of tongs in China was around 400 BC. These were made of iron, primarily used to pick up hot coal, and to serve as a blacksmith tool. Later, they were made from bronze and used for cooking and handling hot food. Today, tongs are usually made from stainless steel, although wooden tongs are still available.

7: The Art of Making Tongs

The process of making tongs has evolved over time. The first tongs were likely made by folding a piece of bamboo into a U-shape and then flattening it to make it thinner. Today, tongs are usually made from stainless steel or aluminum through a more sophisticated manufacturing process.

7.1 The Making of Cooking Tongs

The first cooking tongs were made by folding a piece of bamboo into a U-shape and then pounding it with a hammer to flatten it and make it thinner. The resulting tool was used to grab hot embers from a fire or from a smoldering coal bed.

8: The Many Uses of Tongs

Tongs are primarily used to hold and manage items while cooking or working with them. Here are some of the common uses of tongs:

8.1 Tongs in Cooking and Kitchen

In the kitchen, tongs are used to hold, grab, or flip food while cooking. They're particularly effective for handling thin items like shrimp or asparagus without breaking them.

8.2 Tongs in Science

In scientific laboratories, tongs are used to hold small objects. They provide a protective barrier between the user and the object, preventing injuries.

8.3 Crucible Tongs

Crucible tongs are used to protect hands from getting burned while handling a hot crucible.

8.4 Scissor Tongs

Scissor tongs are used to hold hot objects. They're great for gripping smaller items that are too small for your hands.

8.5 Beaker Tongs

Beaker tongs are used to pick up and hold beakers, flasks, or other glassware.

8.6 Teat Tongs

Teat tongs are used to clean a cow's teats before milking.

8.7 Hair Tongs

Hair tongs are used to curl your hair.

9: The Many Types of Tongs

Tongs come in many different shapes and sizes, each designed to serve a specific purpose. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Serving tongs, which are used to serve food onto plates
  • Extraction tongs, which are used to remove hot foods from the grill or oven
  • Food handling tongs, which have long handles to reach deep into bowls or pots
  • Chinese tongs, the traditional type of tongs with two flat prongs for cooking
  • Pillstrom tongs, a type of Chinese tong with an extra-long handle
  • Snake tongs, with four prongs that curve around the central gripping point
  • Rubber-tipped tongs, used for handling delicate food

10: Tongs: From Antlers to Modernity

The first tongs were made from a pair of deer antlers and bones. People used whatever materials were available to them to create tools and utensils. When someone discovered that they could use antlers to hold hot things, they were put to use.

Over time, tongs have evolved and diversified, and are now made from various materials, including plastic, metal, and rubber. Each material has its own unique properties, making it better suited for certain tasks than others.

11: FAQs

To wrap up this detailed exploration of the history of tongs, let's address some frequently asked questions:

11.1 Did God make tongs?

According to the ancient Jewish text Pirkei Avot, God created tongs on the first Shabbat eve. The reasoning behind this claim is that craft workers couldn't build tongs unless they already had a pair.

11.2 Where did tongs get their name?

The word "tongs" comes from Old English, from the word 'tange' or 'tang', meaning 'that which bites'.

11.3 What do tongs look like?

Tongs are tools used to grip and lift objects. They usually have two arms connected at one end with a pivot, allowing the arms to close and open while maintaining a constant distance from each other at the pivot.

12: Conclusion

Tongs, in essence, are an extension of our hands, enabling us to safely interact with objects that our bare hands cannot. This simple yet ingenious tool, whether used for cooking, metalworking, or scientific research, has stood the test of time, proving its indispensability over centuries. The invention of tongs, regardless of who first came up with the idea, is a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability.


Who invented tongs



Marias Condo
Marias Condo

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