How to Play the 19th Century Children's Game: Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladders were popular children’s toys from the 19th century. Made from wooden blocks curiously strung together with ribbon, the toy relied on a simple movement of the wrist to give the illusion of falling blocks. According to the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission Gazette, the Jacob’s Ladder received its name from a biblical story about Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. Because of this biblical allusion, children in the 19th century were allowed to play with the game on Sundays, a day on which toys were typically forbidden. Modern children continue to entertain themselves with this classic wooden toy.

Fold the Jacob’s Ladder so that the wooden blocks are stacked on top of each other and the ends of the ribbon show on the top block, rather than the stripe.

Hold the sides of the top block with your thumb and index finger and pick up the Jacob’s Ladder.

Move your wrist to tilt the top block forward. The motion will flip the next blocks in line, making them appear to cascade downward.

Move your wrist to tilt the top block backward. The blocks will appear to cascade downward again.

Continue tilting the top block forward and backward rapidly.