John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is (not) a Rell Person

–Andrew Wasson

There are two main goals of this essay. The first is to determine whether the song “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” is based on the life of a real person. The second is to determine (regardless of Schmidt’s existence) the origin of the song. The two inquiries could have been intertwined. An answer to the first inquiry may have lead conveniently to the answer to the second. As it turns out, this would not be the case. But don’t just take my word for it – check out my math. Let us address the first question: is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt a real person?

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is not a real person

Tracking this down would take some modern-day sleuthing. According to Yahoo People Search there are no Jingleheimers living in the United States. It appears, however, that if there once was a John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, all record of his noble heritage has been lost to the ages, to the sands of time. Consequently, we can say with a good deal of certainty that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is a fictional person. This is bolstered by the fact that the earliest accounts of the song (E. O. Harbin’s Parodology, Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1927) do not refer to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt at all, but rather refer to John Jacob Guggenheimer Schmidt. [1] That’s right, I’ve had a wildcard up my sleeve all along.

John Jacob Guggenheimer Schmidt may be a real person

Of the 61 people with the last name Guggenheimer, six of them have names that start with “J”. Right away, the two Jennifer Guggenheimers from Wisconsin can be ruled out. So can Julia Guggenheimer from Connecticut. That leaves two “J” Guggenheimers from the Midwest and one John Guggenheimer from Wilmington, North Carolina. Upon further investigation, John Guggenheimer is a financial advisor with the middle name Capron. No information was found about the Midwestern Guggenheimers. Therefore, it is entirely possible, although somewhat unlikely, that one (or both) of them are John Jacob Guggenheimers. Even so, there is no evidence to support that either is a Schmidt.

But what of the song’s origin, the aforementioned second goal of this piece? It seems that finding the real Schmidt would not help solve the mystery in the convenient way I had hoped when we started on this expedition – hat in hand as the banker come west. Remember, the 1927 citation is the earliest record of the song but it is not necessarily its origin.

A philosophical discussion of origins might be fruitful before we go farther: namely, an exposition of The Law of Superlatives. It applies here in a corollary sense. The Law of Superlatives says that for everything for which there can be a superlative, a superlative exists. [2]  Note, not only can the superlative exist: the superlative must exist. Granted, there is not much of a superlative here since at issue is the origin of a song; it is not the loudest song ever sung nor the longest song ever. I said it applied in a correlary sense – the general theme still applies. Songs aren’t plucked from the ether like grapes from a vine. Someone at some point had to create a song. The key is just tracing it back to its source. Even though the track may be covered and obscured with weeds, somewhere under the dandelions and ferns a track once existed. And our job, good friends, is to follow that track back to its source.

Thus, it is high time to propose a theory. My hypothesis: The origin of JJJS springs from immigrant-inspired vaudeville from the late nineteenth-century. Temporally, this seems to fit. If the earliest recorded instance of the song is 1927, and if its origin was at the latest 1900, that provides at very least 20-plus years for its percolation through the public consciousness into print form. According to Holger Kersten, in Using the Immigrant’s Voice: Humor and Pathos in Nineteenth Century “Dutch” Dialect Texts, “[p]eople delighted in language for its own sake… [t]hey enjoyed new coinages, comic shouts and mock pompous words. In a way, it looked like the growing nation was surveying its linguistic diversity.” [3]  In this way – surveying its linguistic diversity and taking from the influx of German language forms brought to this country by German immigrants – it seems entirely plausible that humor lampooning this new linguistic incorporation birthed a song featuring a mock pompous appellation of clearly foreign origin.

Not surprisingly, the scholarly research that refers to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is scant. Even so, a series of articles in a journal called Western Folklore, published in the late 40s and early 50s, discusses the song in the context of circular jingles. In the same breath the article offers the ditty “Yon Yonson” as another similar circular jingle: “My name is Yon Yonson, I come from Wisconsin. I work as a lumberjack there. I see people in the street, they ask me my name and I say… My name is Yon Yonson.” [4] Notice the similarities. A name tied to an ethnic identity is central. [5] Instead of “going out” and having people “shout” his name, Yon Yonson ventures into the street and people ask him his name. Variations on a theme. One interesting point is the subtle shift in language between Yon Yonson that might be indicative of the relative temporal relationship of the two songs. In Yon Yonson, Yon says, “I see people in the street, they ask me my name and I say…My name is Yon Yonson…” Here, Yon Yonson is a stranger. The townspeople are welcoming, but they do not know him. By contrast, in John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, the situation is different. First, the singer affirmatively identifies himself with John Jacob Jingleheimer (“his name is my name too”). What is more, the townspeople are now familiar with John Jacob (“whenever I go out, the people always shout, there goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”). Thus, I propose that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt came after Yon Yonson. The main figure moves from being a newcomer to a familiar. This perhaps reflects a change in society’s view of the immigrant that would place John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt after Yon Yonson temporally.

The origin of Yon Yonson has more documentation than the origin of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Both Yon Yonson and Ole Oleson were plays on the Swedish Theater circuit in the late 1800s written by Gus Heege. Heege starred in both. In Yon Yonson, the main character (Yon Yonson) triumphed over his antagonists because of his honest, level-headed, and kind-hearted nature. At the time, interestingly, the authenticity of the project was examined closely by some critics: Heege, a Minneapolis journalist, apparently had no connection to Sweden. [6]  Overall, however, Swedish audiences embraced the play. It is unclear if the song “Yon Yonson” was the show-stopping finale or whether the song itself was inspired by the musical generally.

Likewise, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt may have its origins in immigrant-inspired German-American vaudeville of the same era. During this time, a sub-genre called the “Dutch Act” was popular. Contrary to what the name may suggest, Dutch Acts had nothing to do with the Netherlands. Instead, it is a corruption of “Deutschland.” Two of the biggest stars of the Dutch Act were Joe Weber and Lew Fields, two New Yorkers who catered to the German-American audience by speaking in exaggerated accents and by sporting garish clothing. The pair would use common mispronunciations of the newly-arrived German immigrant as the platform for their humor. Far from being offensive, this humor had a tragic element that resonated with the frustration of immigrants with a limited command of the language. [7]  According to Professor Kersten, “[w]hat is important here is that the collective laughter created a sense of community in the audience and elevated the comedians onto a plane where they became figures of alienation and displacement.” [8]  Another example of Dutch humor was the “Leedle Yawcob Strauss” series of poems by Charles Follen Adams published in newspapers in the 1870s. [9]  Could this also be the origin? Yawcob Strauss somehow providing the Jacob Schmidt part of the name? How about the song “Johannes Roidelbracher” in a Beadle and Adams songbook? [10]  Could this have provided the Jingleheimer/Guggenheimer component?

Thus, I hope that by now the reader shares my conviction that the origin of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, while still remaining unknown, at least has been pinpointed to a certain era, that is, the late nineteenth century. At this point, it may be impossible to trace the path back from Yawcob Strauss, Yon Yonson, and Johannes Roidelbracher to the 1927 Nashville-published Guggenheimer Schmidt citation. Honestly, it really may be impossible. Leads still exist though – the Library of Congress has an extensive of collection of songbooks that might hold answers. So as long as there is hope, there is a will. And as long as there is a will, friends, there is a way.

[1] Joe Hickerson, Songfinder, SingOut! Magazine, Spring 2005.

[2] Dairy River’s own John Caruso is attributed as the originator of this doctrine. See possibly a more elaborate explanation in Dairy River #2.

[3] “Circular Jingles” Western Folklore 1949.

[4] Holger Kersten, Use of the Immigrant’s Voice: Humor and Pathos in Nineteenth Century “Dutch” Texts, 21 (4) MELUS 3 (Winter 1996).

[5] This hypothesis is further supported by personal correspondence with Dr. Jim Leary, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. He independently suggested that JJJS may be related to Yon Yonson.


[7] See Kersten supra note 4 at 10.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10]  Starr’s Songbook #4, Jule Keene’s Songs.

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