Folding Ladder

Artist/Maker: Unknown

Created: after 1790

Origin/Purchase: Monticello Joiner's Shop

Materials: oak

Dimensions: 424.2 × 33 open; 8.9 closed (167 × 13 open; 3 1/2 in. closed)

Location: Entrance Hall

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by purchase to Uriah P. Levy; by descent to Jefferson Monroe Levy; by purchase to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923

Accession Number: 1923-15

Historical Notes: This compact folding ladder, attributed to the Monticello joinery, closes into an unobtrusive pole. This type of ladder was frequently used in libraries in the late eighteenth century.[1] When closed, the two uprights of the ladder fit together, forming a single shaft of wood. According to tradition, the ladder was used to reach the great clock in the Entrance Hall for its weekly winding. Although the source for the design is not known, Jefferson noted seeing "a folding ladder" in Bergen, Germany, during a trip there in 1788.[2]

Efficient and portable ladders such as these were also helpful outside. In Rural Affairs (1877), J. J. Thomas recommended a similar design for pruning trees.

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 299


  1. ^ Edward H. Pinto, "Georgian Library Steps," Antiques 83 (January 1963): 103-04.
  2. ^ Jefferson, Notes of a Tour through Holland and the Rhine Valley, in PTJ, 13:18. Transcription available at Founders Online.