One Man’s Passion For Petroleum

By Emily Bright | May 15, 2015


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The gas station. It’s a familiar place, but when you’re filling your tank, how often do you stop and think about where you are and what you’re doing?

“That’s the thing about gasoline is when you buy it you don’t see it, feel it, taste it, hear it…it’s just an anonymous product that goes into your tank and quite frankly, 5 minutes after you leave you’re probably not sure what that brand was,” says Ed Jacobsen.

Jacobsen, or “Jake the Oil Guy,” is the man behind the Petroleum Museum in Three Lakes. At the height of his career, he owned six gas stations in Chicago.

“So the oil companies started coming out with things that you could have in your house to remind you of their product like salt and pepper shakers, cigarette lighters, hot pads, sewing kits,” explains Jacobsen. “And they started producing toys for kids.”

That’s the stuff that Jacobsen collects: the signs, pumps, and products made by the petroleum industry. He left the business in 1985, but he just wasn’t happy.

Jacobsen asked himself why he wasn’t happy and realized he missed being around all of this stuff. “So I started collecting, just for myself,” he says.

He now has more than 4000 items. Or at least, that’s when he stopped counting. He started the museum after the collection outgrew his house… much to his wife’s relief. 

“We were living in the gas station and I had all the pumps in the heated garage and her car had to sit outside, and she said weren’t these pumps meant to be outside? And I said not my pumps.”

Almost 30,000 visitors have come through the Petroleum Museum since Jacobsen bought the building ten years ago. When you walk in, you’re likely to hear Elvis and smell that familiar gasoline smell. There’s lots of color, LOTS of neon.

“A lot of people say, “oh I got to bring my grandson,” and I say no bring your grandfather. Your grandson’s not gonna care that much about it, but Grandpa, he’s gonna stay all day,” says Jacobsen.

The items are meant to be eye-catching. The museum has gas pumps dating from 1899 to the 1970s, some topped with glass globes that look like crowns. Other items in Jacobsen’s collection weren’t so popular, like a set of 12 ash trays with pin-up girls made by Texaco in 1953.

“They actually bombed,” explains Jacobsen. “The women customers and the wives of the dealers just hated it.”

His collection has drawn some attention. The Cohen brothers approached him about using four of his gas pumps in one of their movies, but he turned them down, worried what harm might come to his collections.

Jacobsen’s Petroleum Museum is a labor of love. Admission is free. It’s open in the afternoon, 5 days a week, with a sign on the door and website that reads, “I may do some traveling in the winter, so call ahead.” But generally, he’s there.

“It sounds funny, but I think I’ve got oil in my blood.”

At 73, he doesn’t show any signs of running out of gas.

Emily Bright

Emily Bright

Emily Bright is a freelance writer, educator, and radio producer living in Eagle River. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Glances Back and the co-author of Powerful Ideas in Teaching: Creating Environments Where Students Want to Learn. 

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