The History of the Jumping Jack

Jumping Jack

Whilst not the most effective form of training out there, chances are all of us will have done countless jumping jacks as kids. Indeed, Jumping Jacks were often the staple exercises for countless PE teachers, alongside the dreaded burpee.

So who did invent the Jumping Jack and how did it become so popular?

The answer seems to be John J. Pershing.


Pershing was one of the US’s greatest military generals, having served in the US Military from 1886 to 1924 and overseeing combat in the Indian, Spanish-American and First World War.

Only Pershing and George Washington have served as General of the Armies of the United States, so it’s safe to say Pershing was a decorated leader.

He was also quite the fitness fanatic it seemed.

Whilst still a cadet at West Point, Pershing was tasked with the job of hazing a fellow student, named Charles D. Rhodes,

Seeking a way to punish Rhodes but at the same time make him fitter, Pershing devised the jumping jack.

Frank Everson Vandiver, the American civil war historian, wrote about Pershing’s invention in his biography of the great general

Worst of all, Pershing invented an almost foolproof method of hazing, and Rhodes suffered directly. The scheme got the name “jumping Jack” for obvious reasons, and few treatments seem to have affected plebes more lastingly. Origins of the technique are obscure, but Pershing’s plan had simplicity and adaptability.

He would line up a group of plebes, order them to count off to identify odds and evens, and when he pulled on an imaginary string, all the odds threw their arms stiffly out at right angles to their bodies; then Jack pulled the string in the opposite direction, and the odds dropped their arms and evens jumped their legs out to make a V. Back and forth went the string, arms flapped, legs splayed, while upperclassmen howled at the marionettes in action.

For decades the Jumping Jack remained a staple of military hazing and fitness regimens amongst Americas troops until the 1950s when Jack LaLanne, the famous physical culturist, introduced it to the general public.

From 1951 to 1985 Jack Lalanne would open his nationwide show performing the jumping jack, thus popularizing the exercise for the American public.

LaLanne would open all his shows with the Jumping Jack

The rest as they say, is history.


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