The Otto Jacobs Company, currently in it’s 95th + year of operation, has had three generations of family business members working side by side. At one time Otto Jacobs, founder of the Otto Jacobs Company and his son Tom Jacobs worked with Tom’s sons Jesse, Cole A., Jon and Otto T. Later after the passing of Otto; Jesse and Cole A’s sons and daughters, who are fourth generation worked alongside their grandfather, father and uncle in the concrete, sand and gravel business.
In 1902 Otto was born in West Allis, Wisconsin and at the age of 1, moved with his family to Alden, Illinois, approximately ten miles south of the Wisconsin border from where the Otto Jacobs Company business is currently located.
As the story goes, in 1922 Otto’s parents bought their first home in Lake Geneva on Hwy 120, which is also the original site of Otto’s business. In 1923 Otto returned from an adventurous trip to Riverside, California where he had been working on a ranch driving ten mule teams, plowing fields and milking cows. Otto’s older brother, Walt, was a horse and cattle dealer in Lake Geneva and Otto decided it was time to go into business for himself, so he purchased from Walt a team of horses and a wagon. Otto’s first job was putting in a gravel driveway, not only did he make enough money to pay for his original team and wagon but also enough money to purchase a second team and wagon, just the beginning of his entrepreneurial life. Originally calling his business Lakeshore Teaming Company, he became more familiar to his customers as Otto Jacobs, so the decision to structure the business under the name Otto Jacobs Company, LLC was easily made.
One of Otto’s largest jobs during those early years was to help build the lagoon at the Big Foot Beach State Park. Otto delivered topsoil six days a week, using three mule teams and three dump wagons, keeping Otto and his crew busy an entire summer. In addition to delivering topsoil, sand and gravel, Otto also built roads, driveways and plowed gardens. According to Tom Jacobs, “basically Dad took on any job he could, he did anything anyone asked of him, he just figured out a way to do it”.
Otto always had an interest in livestock and farming, so he had pigs, chickens and cows, in addition to farming over 300 acres before his retirement. During the depression he didn’t have much, but they always had a good meal on the table, thanks to Otto’s interests and foresight.
In the 1930’s when work was scarce, Otto took men and tent crews to Antioch, Illinois and worked there for several summers spreading excess soil on the banks of the creek which came from the new subdivisions being built in town.
1934 was the driest summer anyone could remember, so Otto took his crew to Antigo, Wisconsin where he again set up a tent crew and baled hay until the rains came in the fall, and then drove the hay to Chicago for delivery to the stock yards. Otto was one of the first to have a stationary baler, allowing the workers to bring the hay to the baler, thus increasing their efficiency and production.
Another big endeavor Otto tackled was harvesting ice from Button’s Bay on Lake Geneva. This was quite an operation, employing up to 40 men from daylight to dusk during six of the coldest weeks of winter. Since this was the Depression, the average daily wage the men were happy to receive was $3-4.00/day including a noon meal. Katherine, Otto’s wife fed the men in shifts so the ice production could continue. One of the most difficult and challenging jobs of ice harvesting was keeping the open water from freezing over night. This was accomplished by a man sitting in a boat and rowing around the 1 acre ice field all night in order to keep the ice from freezing. Located not far from his harvesting spot on the ice was an ice house across Hwy 120, this was filled to capacity in order to provide ice to the lake estates year round. Technology stepped into place with refrigeration and Otto’s last ice harvest was in 1946.
Otto’s first farm purchase was from a Mr. Heffron. He bought 117 acres in 1941 where he raised his small dairy herd, this also is the current site of the construction business on old Westside Road now part of the State Hwy 120 bypass. Shortly thereafter he bought 30 heifers and 1 bull from Boyd Dickenson, which arrived in a boxcar from Dickenson’s ranch in Montana, this was the beginning of Otto’s venture in the beef business. Otto started crossbreeding the heifers with Angus and created a fine hybrid. He also purchased from Kingsville, Texas some Santa Gertrudis bulls and bred them with the heifer / Angus cattle; at one time the herd was as large as 500 head.
The second farm 167 acres was purchased from a Mr. Isbell in 1951, which is now the current location of Big Foot Beach State Park. The third farm, 133 acres was purchased in 1955 and the last farm 280 acres was purchased from Mr. Kundert in 1985.
Although Otto had been in the concrete business since the late 1930’s, it was in 1946 when he purchased his first end loader with a cable lift bucket replacing loading gravel into trucks by hand. The next innovation of technology Otto purchased and has profoundly changed the concrete industry is when mixing concrete evolved from mortar tubs to portable concrete mixers and finally the first ready mix truck. During these years Otto and his crew produced and finished concrete sidewalks, driveways and foundations and sometime in the 1940’s it became popular to build concrete barnyards, enabling farmers to keep their dairy herds cleaner. In 1955 Otto’s first ready mix truck was a 3 cubic yard GMC. Originally purchased with no thought to selling to the general public, only for his own jobs, Otto quickly added a second truck in 1956 to meet this new demand for ready mixed concrete. The second truck was also a single axle with a 4 cubic yard mixer, quite a contrast to today’s modern 5 axle front discharge delivery truck with a 10 cubic yard mixer.
Also during this time the business was involved in interstate contract trucking, residential and commercial general contracting, full service excavating, concrete septic tank manufacturing, large scale contract snowplowing and solid and liquid waste hauling and disposal. Otto continued to work in the business until the last few years of his life, shortly thereafter, he passed away in 1991 at the age of 89.
In 2000 Tom Jacobs retired and the third generation of the Otto Jacobs Company, Jesse and Cole A. assumed full management and ownership. They had been working partners in the business since the formation of the LLC in 1994 and their involvement and commitment had been a big part of the changes which occurred during the past 3 decades. In the early 1970’s the demand for quality produced materials found the Jacobs family building a new gravel crushing and washing plant and in the 1980's a new year round ready mixed concrete plant. In the ’90’s front discharge mixer trucks were purchased, as well as a fully computerized batching system and plant capacity and production was upgraded. In 2010 concrete conveyor placement service was added. Throughout the years tough decisions were made to sell certain divisions of the business in order to focus on the existing main stays of ready mixed concrete. The new slimmed down Otto Jacobs Company centers on ready mixed concrete production, delivery and service providing properly trained and certified skilled workers focusing on customer service that sets them apart.
In 2012 ownership was consolidated and Cole A. sold his interest to Jesse. In 2018 Evan Jacobs joined his father in 4th generation of ownership and now he and Jesse own and operate the business on a daily basis.
Surviving through the Great Depression and a severe Recession, there has been no regression in our succession, Otto Jacobs still makes a concrete impression.