Behind the Meaning of the Catchy Nursery Rhyme “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”

It might be the catchiest song of all time.

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s a ragtime-inspired song that’s funny, and goofy and creates community. That’s right, it’s “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” Here, we will dive into the history and meaning of the popular North American song.

The Lyrics

The lyrics to the song are short and simple, as you can see from the video below, taken from the popular and long-running ’90s children’s television show, Barney & Friends.

The lyrics are as follows, often sung in unison or even in a round, repeated often four times:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
His name is my name too
Whenever we go out
The people always shout
There goes
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

[RELATED: Meaning Behind the Nursery Rhyme “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”]

The Song’s Origins and “Yon Yonson”

As with many popular children’s songs that have been around for seemingly forever, the beginnings of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” are a bit nebulous.

There is some evidence that it comes from the stage, particularly in vaudeville acts of the late 19th century. It was a popular song in American immigrant communities, too.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, America experienced a great deal of growth from immigrants. Many of them were from Europe and while, physically, they blended in, linguistically there were troubles. These issues were often highlighted in art and song to bring levity to the difficulties of many in foreign-born communities in the U.S. That is likely how “John Jacob Jingelheimer Schmidt” began.

Another song with similar origins is the traditional tune, “Yon Yonson,” which is also known as “Jan Jansen.” The song, which also dates back to pre-20th century Swedish vaudeville, goes like this:

My name is Yon Yonson,
I live in Wisconsin.
I work in a lumber yard there.
The people I meet as
I walk down the street,
They say “Hello!”
I say “Hello!”
They say “What’s your name?”
I say: My name is Yon Yonson… (repeated again and again).

More Recently

By the early-to-mid 20th century, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” was widely known in North America. It was promulgated largely, perhaps to some surprise, by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. For example, a newspaper article in The Times of Munster, Indiana said that during a Girl Scout event, the gals sat around a campfire, and “it was solemnly announced that John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith after a long and useful life had died from overwork on the way to Whiting. He was buried with due ceremony and his ghost is not to be seen until October first. All the favorite camp songs were sung.”

In addition, an article from 1927 in the Portsmouth Daily Times talked about a group of boys from a YMCA camp who sang camp songs, including “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning and the History of the Traditional Nursery Rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”]

Infinite Songs

The best part of the song, perhaps, and the reason it is so popular for kids, especially when around a campfire, is that it is supposed to be sung repeatedly, even infinitely. Sing it once and keep going. Sing it 10 times and keep going. In this way, the song resembles others like “The Song That Never Ends.”

Other Renditions and Popular Culture

Over the years, the song has become so popular that it’s even appeared in other languages, including a Spanish version, “Juan Paco Pedro de la Mar.”

To date, the song has been sung and recorded many times. It even appears in a swath of popular culture offerings, from the 1997 film, Rocketman, and the 2000 movie, Disney’s The Kid, to an episode of the popular cartoon show, King of the Hill. Even Elmo sang it in the Sesame Street home video Kids’ Favorite Songs.

Final Thoughts

Due to its goofy lyrics and required repetition, the song only becomes sillier and sillier as it goes. That is aided, of course, by the goofy names involved: Jingleheimer Schmidt.

It’s funny, too, because the song starts out with relatively normal names: John and Jacob. But it quickly takes a left turn into the more unusual, creating a dichotomy that is hard to deny.

Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Muscadine Bloodline Play From Memory on ‘Teenage Dixie’