By the mid 1800s many mines had played out and shut down, and the unemployed miners had to find another means of support. Their woodworking skills, and the increasing use of water-powered lathes, saved their schnitzel. The men began to produce items in quantity—tops and dolls, farm scenes with barns and livestock, Noah’s arks with lines of paired animals, angels and pyramids bearing candles, miners carrying lamps, and the nutcrackers that they had once created only for their own families. The finished pieces were transported by horse cart to markets in Dresden, Leipzig, and Nuremberg, where they sold well and gained a reputation for quality as well as charming simplicity.
According to local legend, Seiffen woodworker Friedrich Wilhelm Füchtner created the prototype of the modern nutcracker in about 1870—a king wearing cavalry dress and a crown reminiscent of a miner’s hat. This inspired other caricatures such as soldiers, forest rangers, and policemen. The nut-cracking function of these ersatz officials symbolized the unpleasantness with which real authority figures often treated the townspeople.
The popularity of those nutcrackers really took off during World War II. Read the rest of the story at Nat Geo Pop Omnivore Blog. Link -Thanks, Marilyn!
(Image credit: Flickr user Hugh Buzacott)