I always assumed that the gremlins of legend had a long and storied past, similar to brownies, sprites, and leprechauns. But the gremlin origin story dates back only to the 1920s, when Royal Air Force pilots invented the concept to assign responsibility for otherwise inexplicable aircraft malfunctions. (The term gremlin is thought to be a portmanteau of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Fremlin Beer.) Some returning airmen even swore that they had seen tiny creatures sabotaging their equipment. Historian Marlin Bressi suggested that gremlins boosted morale by providing a means for deflecting blame. Move over, scapegoat, here comes the scapegremlin!
Well before he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, author Roald Dahl is credited with introducing gremlins into popular culture. He had served in the RAF and survived a crash landing in the Middle East (Caused by gremlins, perhaps? The world may never know.). In his first children's novel, The Gremlins, the title characters were little men who lived in clouds and hangars and ate...postage stamps...?
And who can forget the 1963 Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", starring William Shatner and a gremlin who wears only slightly more eyeliner?
Here's hoping you stay safe from the gremlins today, my friends!