Origins of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”

One day, I tweeted that I was digging up data about the historical John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, “at whom people shouted whenever he went out.” I added that “He killed nine of them and ate their bones. Kids who sing the song today don’t know all the verses about his 1796 hanging.”

I should have guessed that people would think I was serious!  It is the kind of research I do, after all, and people are always willing to believe that nonsense children’s poem have sinister origins. Look how many people still think “Ring Around the Rosy” is about the plague.

Realizing my mistake, I set out to see where the song DID come from. The lyrics seem to have been standard for decades:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

His name is my name too

Whenever I go out

The people always shout

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

There are minor variations, just as “that’s my name too” vs “his name is my name too,” and whether the people always shout or like to shout, but the song doesn’t change much.

Finding the origins of it are tricky, partly because, while the song remains the same, historically people have gone their own way on how to spell “Jingleheimer.” Sometimes it’s multiple words; the earliest reference I could find was a July 25, 1923 Allentown Morning Call, which referred to children singing “a very touching and pathetic rendition of that wonderful, soul-stirring song, ‘John Jacob Jingle Himer Schnidt.”

From what I could find, the song may have started out in Pennsylvania, as most of the earliest 1920s references to it come from papers in that state (though even the Morning Call couldn’t stick to one spelling). But there are also references from that time in Wisconsin and Illinois, and even the early references seem to imply that the song was already well-known and old by then.

Variations in the name were common enough; a 1942 Ladies Home Journal transcribed the song as “John Jacob Jingle Homer Jones.” At least one other 1940s source used “Smith” as the last name.

Given the different spellings and variations, it’s entirely possible that it was recorded in some source I just haven’t found yet. I’ll keep looking!

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