Jumping jack devised for West Point hazing

Gen. John J. Pershing (1860-1948) is credited with inventing the jumping jack at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the 1880s.

Why? To haze cadets.

In Pipe Clay and Drill (Reader's Digest Press, 1977), biographer Richard Goldhurst writes, "Hazing appalled Pershing as a plebe, but he became proficient at it as a yearling. He invented the 'jumping jacks' discipline in which he drilled plebes who marched at his command like marionettes."

Quoting biographer Geoffrey Perret, the Public Broadcasting System series American Experience makes note of Pershing's militant discipline in an online description for the film MacArthur:

"One of the most dashing men ever to wear the uniform, John Joseph 'Black Jack' Pershing was the most accomplished and celebrated American soldier of the early 20th century. But to a young Douglas MacArthur entering West Point in 1899, the name John Pershing most likely elicited fear and loathing, not admiration. That summer MacArthur joined Company A, where stories about their recently departed tactical officer -- Pershing, known to the company as 'Lord God Almighty' -- had already become legendary."

Perret wrote that Pershing had been an avid practitioner of hazing as an upperclassman before graduating in 1886. When he returned as a "tac" in charge of cadet discipline in 1897, he took "a perfectly ordinary group of cadets and made them hate him."

But Pershing's forceful personality made him a star. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt passed over 862 senior officers to raise Pershing four grades from captain to brigadier general. During his decades of service, he was provincial governor in the southern Philippines and put down the Moro uprising, led a force of 5,000 U.S. soldiers in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his Mexican rebels, and when the United States finally entered World War I in 1917, he commanded the Allied Expeditionary Force.

"Pershing rightfully emerged as the most celebrated American hero of the war," the program bio states. Congress created the title General of the Armies to honor him.

Something to mull over when you're deciding whether to do some jumping jacks.

ActiveStyle on 07/28/2014