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:
- EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) Jacob's Ladder glass dish which contains ladder and diamond point panels alternating around the sides.
An example of this EAPG plate can be seen here.
- There is also an obscure old bowl and perfume bottle which are also said to be in the Jacob's Ladder pattern.
- From the Book of Genesis, Jacob saw angels ascending and descending, in other words, A Ladder to Heaven (or perhaps in the words of Led Zeppelin, a "Stairway to Heaven"?. The glassblowing Jacob's Ladder is a three-dimensional tapered rectangular spiral, so this connotation makes sense as a possible word-origin for our glass object.
- A High-voltage taveling (climbing) arc between two non-parallel metal rods (close together at the bottom and farther apart at the top).
Note that the glassblowing tool to make a Jacob's Ladder requires four non-parallel metal rods,
so this word-origin also makes sense for our glass object.
- Can also refer to a folding folk toy consisting of flat wood blocks which are hinged together.
- A string figure formed by manipulating string on/around your fingers.
A tall plant, Polemonium caeruleum, with blue flowers
- Jacob's Ladder Trail (Route 20) in Massachusetts "originated centuries ago when people from the Mohican and Woronoake tribes walked between Connecticut and the Hudson River Valleys. The trail has now been transformed into one of the most beautiful roads in the United States."
- A limited-edition 1977 lithograph by Marc Chagall
- A 1980 song by the Canadian rock band Rush, on their Permanent Waves album. This is a long rock song (7 minutes 26 seconds) and tries to describe a storm, through music.
- as well as many other meanings (a rope ladder on a ship, a 1990 movie, a 2002 South Park episode)
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  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:
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!
- 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
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:
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.
- 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.
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...