A jack-in-the-box is a child's toy that outwardly consists of a box with a crank. When the crank is turned, it plays a melody, often "Pop Goes the Weasel". At the end of the tune, the lid pops open and a figure, usually a clown or jester, pops out of the box.
The first mechanical or wind-up toys were made back in Grecian times - but the art was revived by watch makers and clock makers during the 15th century. Early in the 16th century, a German clockmaker named Claus made a box for a local prince whose son was about to celebrate his fifth birthday. A simple wooden box with metal edges and a handle, and with a turn of the crank produced a simple tune and out popped a 'Jack,' a Devil, a comical version with a leering smile. Other nobles took note of the child's toy and the idea spread. Technology by the 18th century meant that it was a 'common toy' or novelty often in use for all ages. It was around this time that the image of a devil in a box became cartoon fodder for rogue politicians and other public figures held to ridicule.
Another theory as to the origin of the jack-in-the-box is that it comes from the 13th century English prelate Sir John Schorne, who is often pictured holding a boot with a devil in it. According to folklore, he once cast the devil into a boot to protect the village of North Marston in Buckinghamshire. This theory may explain why in French, a jack-in-the-box is called a "diable en boîte" (literally "boxed devil").
The toy gave its name to the fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box, which features a mascot named "Jack" who resembles a toy clown from a jack-in-the-box.
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