In New England, before the motor car was common, people got around in horse drawn vehicles and during the winter, when there was heavy snowfall, a horse drawn sleigh was the normal mode of transport. As the the horse and sleigh in snow made almost no sound, people tied bells to their horse's harness, to avoid collisions.
Jingle Bells was often a drinking song at parties, where people would jingle the ice in their glasses as they sang.
Many times, a sleigh ride was a romantic date for a courting couple. It was an opportunity for a couple to get away on their own & venture into distant fields unchaperoned!
The original title of James Peirpont's most famous song was Open Sleigh Ride but in 1857, two years after it's initial publication, it was republished with it's new name, Jingle Bells.
James Pierpont became the organist and musical director of the Unitarian Church of Savannah, Georgia, where his brother was the minister. He married the daughter of the Mayor of Savannah and continued to write songs. None, however, would achieve the eventual success of Jingle Bells.
Many years later, other Christmas songs would sample or reference parts of Jingle Bells, such is it's impact on modern music.
James Peirpont died in 1893. He would never know just how famous his composition would become, or that it would be the first song to be broadcast from outer space!
On December 16th 1965, while in space, Gemini VI astronauts Tom Stafford & Wally Achirra, sent this report to Mission Control:
"Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He's in a very low trajectory travelling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a ... Very low. Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon. Stand by one ... You might just let me try to pick up that thing."
The astronauts then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells and broadcast a rendition of Jingle Bells.
Jingle Bells was first recorded by the Edison Male Quartette in 1898, as part of a Christmas medley entitled Sleigh Ride Party.
In 1943, Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters recorded Jingle Bells on the Decca label. It sold over a million copies. Many other successful artists have recorded the song, including Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Luciano Pavarotti, Smokey Robinson... The list goes on!
In 1970, James Pierpont was finally inducted into The Songwriter's Hall Of Fame.