Retired Service station owner preserves U.S. transportation history with Wisconsin Petroleum Museum.
Deciding to leave his job as oil company sales rep in the Chicago area, Ed Jacobsen in the late 1960s bought his first service station. 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. Missing the world of service stations, Jacobson began gathering artifacts to establish a petroleum museum.
When by 2006 his petroleum-related memorabilia climbed above 2,700 items, Jacobson (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.”
Jacobson, 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. Graduating from Marquette, Jacobson stayed with ENCO and was transferred to Chicago.
After enduring six years of corporate office life, Jacobson realized he would be happier running service stations. His abilities soon led to operating six ENCO stations. The company in 1976 pulled out of the Midwest and sold the stations, so he would operate three Amoco stations and three Shell stations.
During his career Jacobson 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 later noted.
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.
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 pristine 85-year-old Socony Motor fuel sign that was submerged in a river for decades. A nearby 1957 Dodge Coronet was used in the once popular “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. “Bring your old friends and Grandpa, he will love it! We have reached the 10,000 visitor mark and still climbing,” according to Jacobson.
“I just love this stuff,” proclaimed Jacobsen in 2019. Hen added that his artifacts came from a far 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.
Recommended Reading: An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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Citation Information – Article Title: “Wisconsin Petroleum Museum.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/energy-education-resources/wisconsin-petroleum-museum. Last Updated: June 6, 2023. Original Published Date: December 19, 2011.