Wisconsin Petroleum Museum
Ed Jacobsen, once an oil company sales representative in the Chicago area, bought his first service station in the late 1960s. More than three decades and six stations later, he retired to his wife’s hometown of Three Lakes in the Northwoods region of upper Wisconsin. But Ed missed the world of service stations. He began visiting flea markets and garage sales before creating a Wisconsin petroleum museum.
By 2006, as Ed’s petroleum-related memorabilia climbed above 2,700 items. He (and his wife) realized there was a looming storage problem — although he still maintained that technically, he was not a collector.
“Many collectors buy, sell or trade memorabilia to make money,” he says. “I believe in the educational value of these items – and preserving a history many people may have forgotten.”
Ed, who would operate six service stations in the Chicago suburbs from 1968 through 2003, began his petroleum career while attending Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He worked part time in an ENCO (now ExxonMobil) station at Highway 100 and Capitol Drive in Milwaukee. Upon graduation from Marquette, he accepted a position with ENCO and was transferred to Chicago.
After six years of corporate life, Ed realized he would be more productive and happy running his own service station. He soon expanded to six stations. In 1976 ENCO pulled out of the Midwest — and sold Ed’s stations. Ed operated three Amoco stations and three Shell stations.
During his career Ed had bought and saved ailing service stations and eventually employed dozens of mechanics. “By the time I retired, some of those guys had been with me 36 years,” he notes in one magazine article.
Between 1988 and 2003 Ed divested his station holdings and moved to Three Lakes in Wisconsin. He could not get the world of service stations out of his mind.
Retiring to his wife’s hometown in upper Wisconsin, he began his collection. When the family home could hold no more, he bought a building on Highway 45 between Eagle River and Three Lakes. He moved his artifacts and arranged educational exhibits himself. The Northwoods Petroleum Museum opened in July 2006.
Today’s displays include everything from a Firestone ashtray from the 1934 Chicago’s World Fair to a circa 1925 “Mae West” gas pump and 50 gas pump globes. There also is a “new” 85-year-old Socony Motor fuel sign that was submerged in a river for more than 70 years. Nearby is a 1957 Dodge Coronet that was used in the Crime Story television series.
An annual Three Lakes Car Show in June 2011 drew almost 2,000 people to the grounds of Northwoods Petroleum Museum. “We have reached the 10,000 visitor mark and still climbing,” notes the museum’s website. “Bring your old friends and Grandpa, he will love it!”
“I just love this stuff,” says Jacobsen, who notes his artifacts are from a simpler time, when things were made to last. His museum is open all year — and is located on snowmobile trails as well as bike and hiking trails. Visit the Northwoods Petroleum Museum.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.