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Jacob's Ladder - Glassblowing Souvenir

The 3-dimensional rectangular glass spiral Jacob's Ladder Souvenir
(made by Wheaton Mobile Glassblowers) shown above is:
  • 8.5" Tall
  • 2.5" wide at the base
  • 2" Wide at the top
  • Weighs less than 0.6 ounces (16 grams)!
Tony Patti made the above Octagonal (8-sided) Jacob's Ladder Glassblowing Sourvenir
(two views above)
  • 12" Tall
  • 3.75" wide at the base
  • 2" wide at the top
  • Weighs less than 0.6 ounces (15 grams)!
Watch this short movie to see just how surprisingly elastic glass can be!
For those who are not glassblowers, or not looking for the Jacob's Ladder souvenirs made of glass, according to the Jacob's Ladder disambiguation pages on wikipedia, (and other sources), "Jacob's Ladder" may refer to:

I learned about glassblowing a Jacob's Ladder from my friends at the WheatonArts mobile glassblowing studio.

Notice the yellow beeswax in the upper left corner of the photo -- it is used to lubricate the four steel rods, to make the glass a little easier to slide off.

Normally I can look in Google and find a lot of information about a particular subject, but there is very little information about glassblowers making Jacob's Ladders. In fact, I found only one reference at which tells the story of the grand opening day of The Chase Valley Glass Works Company in Milwaukee Wisconsin on September 1, 1880 (yes, way more than a century ago):

"The opening of the glass works (No.1 and No. 2) on September 1 [1880] attracted hundreds of visitors, including local business representatives as well as many women and children. Not much work was done on the first day of regular production as blowers spent much of their time entertaining visitors and creating souvenirs, such as Jacob's Ladders, canes, soup ladles and other fancy items for them to take home."

I was surprised at how little information I could find online, so I emailed the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG), and fortunately Regan Brumagen, the Education & Outreach Librarian at CMOG's Rakow Research Library was able to point out this information from a recent New York Times "Art Review" article

Similarly, "Jacob's Ladder," a seemingly fragile yet resilient toy, is made from a single piece of glass tubing carefully shaped into a open obelisk without its pyramidal apex. The user presses down on the glass to flatten the towerlike design. When the hand is removed, the piece springs back to its original form. The inventive creation comes from an era when liability was not an issue.

Corning's bibliography also mentions the website of "The Whimsey Club", and when I emailed them, Dale Murschell recommended the book "British Glass 1800-1914" by Charles R. Hajdamach, which contains this fascinating information on page 381 (and a photo is shown on page 389):

Jacob's Ladders are as rarely mentioned as flip-flops and if they are mentioned it is with inaccurate information such as Newman's bold statement in his Dictionary that "Jacob's Ladders were made of Nailsea Glass". Friggers, like so many glasses, were not peculiar to one area, nor was their method of manufacture. The individual spirals of a Jacob's ladder are one of the easiest things to make. The late Colin Gill at the Brierley Hill Glass Centre would delight in revealing the simplicity of the making. The process uses one of the glassmaker's tools, the pincers, which are pressed together almost to closing point but leaving a small amount of spare movement. From a gather of molten glass a small thread is pulled out, still connected to the main gather, and placed on to the widest spacing of the pincers. It is then wound spirally around the handle downwards towards the tips of the pincers. Because the glass is so thin, it cools and sets around the pincers very quickly and is released by pressing in the pincers and taking up the spare movement that was allowed in the beginning.

One of the reasons these Jacob's Ladders make such excellent souvenirs is because (like pulling cane) their round cross-section and thinness mean no annealing, so as soon as they have cooled off they can be given away, as contrasted with a 12-24 hour annealing cycle.

Having seen how quickly a Jacob's Ladder can be made at the glassblowing bench, and how much fun they are, while simultaneously demonstrating the unexpected elasticity of glass, I wanted to see how difficult it would be to make one of these tools myself, so I stopped by my local Home Depot hardware store, and was fortunate to talk to John Premo, who took one look at the photo above of WheatonArts' antique glassblowing tool, and helped me select:

  • UPC 0-19442-14714-3 Black Iron Floor Flange, 1/2" which they sell for $2.56 -- this becomes the head of the Jacob's Ladder Glassblowing tool, and has the four holes set 2.5" apart, around the 1/2" threaded center.
  • UPC 0-19442-60710-4 Black Iron Pipe (BIP), 1/2" diameter x 60" (five feet) long, with threaded ends and red plastic caps, they sell this for $7.76 -- looking at the spacing of my glassblowing bench, I probably should have saved a dollar, and gotten the 4-foot-length instead (that could be Model 30612x48), or even the three-foot-length which is only $5.53 (Model 30612x36)
  • SKU# 476685 1/4" x 6 foot round steel rod (plain, no threads) which sells for $5.29
So with John Premo's help, and a total investment of only $15.61 I was well on my way to creating my own glassblowing tool!

The photo above does not look much like a glassblowing tool, yet, right? But what you do see is the 1/4" round rod has been cut into three sections:
  • the "U" shape on the right has been bent twice so that it will fit through two of the holes in the black iron floor flange,
  • the "L" shape in the middle has only been bent once, it will need to be bent a second time to form the second "U" for the other half of the black iron floor flange,
  • you also see the left-over piece of the pipe that is not needed (I set the "prongs" to be approximately one foot long, so I do not need all six feet of the round rod.
  • You also see the main 1/2" diameter pipe (the long handle part of the tool), with the protective red plastic cap removed to show the threads on the end of the pipe.
  • And in the center is the black iron floor flange.
Here is a close-up of the end of the pipe and the flange. The small red cirle is the plastic end-cap, used to protect the threads.

I needed to get the four tines parallel/perpendicular to each other,
and I realized I could reverse the head of the tool, heat up to glowing orange (with a MAPP gas torch) a spot at the end of each tine,
and using just pliers, bend the tine into the exact position I wanted around the handle of the tool,
and I could rotate the tool until I was sure everything was lined up just where it should be...

And here is my finished tool, with the steel rods welded into place, and with the tines set in place...





I received the following email on September 19, 2011:

I am the Archaeological Laboratory Manager for URS Corporation in Burlington, NJ. We are currently working on a large project along the I-95 corridor just north of center city Philadelphia. Our area of investigation will include the site of the Dyottville Glassworks and probably the Union Glass works. In the portions of the project we have investigated so far we have encountered a wide variety of locally produced glass such as: bottles, figural flasks, scent bottles, cane fragments... Very recently we have encountered several features which have contained a wide range of whimseys such as "witch balls," hats, flip flops... and within the last two weeks we have started to recognize small pieces of Jacob's ladders (at least three, each of a different color: aqua, blue and purple).

Rebecca emailed me because she saw this web page.
We exchanged a few emails on this subject over several days,
and then when the archaeological research was concluded, they did a presentation:
A brief Jacob's Ladder presentation was given in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum
on Saturday October 1, 2011 at the National Constitution Center.

Celebrate Pennsylvania Archaeology Month 2011

Explore Philly's Hidden Past
Celebrate Pennsylvania Archaeology Month!
History lives beneath your feet!
Meet Philadelphia archaeologists and learn about the latest historical treasures discovered in and around Philadelphia during the past year.
Saturday, October 1, 2011, 10AM.3:30PM
Place: National Constitution Center (Kirby Auditorium)
Corner of Fifth and Arch Streets, Philadelphia (See directions below)
This day-long event is free and open to all. No reservations necessary.
Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia Archaeological Forum
Host: The National Constitution Center

And more specifically, the agenda is:
Three-Minute "Lightening Round" Talks (LR#3)
Stairway to Heaven Archaeological excavations in the Fishtown neighborhood recovered a range of decorative glass objects including a Jacob's Ladder.
Not just your average whimsey, the Jacob's Ladder whimsey combines a biblical symbol with the light-hearted pastime of whimsical glass blowing to create an unusual ornament. (Carolyn Horlacher)

Carolyn's PowerPoint presentation will include the photograph I took of my friends at the WheatonArts mobile glassblowing studio making a Jacob's Ladder at the Kutztown Folk Festival a few years ago.
That photo allows you to envision how the archaeological fragments found are indeed from Jacob's Ladders.
This Plan Philly web page "PennDOT archaeologists uncover historic Dyottville Glass Works"
has some great photos and video of the archaeological excavations, including these:

(Dyottville Glass Works 1858)

(PennDOT archaeologists uncover historic Dyottville Glass Works)

For completeness, I should also point out that Jacob's Ladder can also refer to a pattern of "cut glass" decoration:
US Glass Company EAPG Jacobs Ladder Bowl Diamond and Rib
(US Glass Company EAPG Jacobs Ladder Bowl Diamond and Rib)
US Glass Company EAPG Jacobs-Ladder Large Compote With Lid
(US Glass Company EAPG Jacobs-Ladder Large Compote With Lid)

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glassblowing web page at last modified: January 20 2013