The Plier Tree at the Warther Museum

Photo by Ernest Warther Museum

When Ernest “Mooney” Warther, the world’s master carver, was just a boy, a stranger whittled him a pair of working wooden pliers by making just ten cuts in a single block of wood. Mooney was fascinated and he would take this concept to staggering extremes, which culminated in The Plier Tree. The Plier Tree consists of 511 pairs of pliers all cut from a single block of wood. It took Mooney just around 8 weeks to complete, making 31,000 flawless cuts. The work was so intense, he only could work on it two hours a day. Mooney took his Plier Tree to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 where he met Robert Ripley who just could not believe the tree would fold back up! The two men sat down and for two hours, closed each pair of pliers until Mr. Ripley saw that it came from one single block of wood (and it took them two more hours to open it back up—which is why it stays open permanently at the museum). The tree is a mathematical highlight and it represents (and has been featured in textbooks) exponential function. ​

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