“Green” is a hot buzzword today, but Gary Jacob’s grandfather was just trying to survive the Great Depression when he provided farmers with the ability to harness wind power.
In 1933, electricity in homes was a new concept, and for farmers in the far reaches of rural America, generated power was an unattainable luxury. Instead, men like John George “J.G.” Jacob sold Delco batteries to farmers who would run the few appliances in their homes that needed electricity. When the batteries died, they were then charged by wind plants, also provided by Jacob’s business, originally called Jacob Radio and Electric. “We were green before green was even used in that sense,” Gary said.
When John’s sons–Ray, Joe and Ken–joined the business, the company took on a new name to better define themselves, J.G. Jacob and Sons. World War II interrupted business for a bit when the sons went off to fight, but they each returned after the war to carry on the family business.
Today, Ray’s son, Gary, continues the tradition under the name of Foster-Jacob, Inc., which reflects the company’s purchase of Foster Electric in the ‘50s. Even with a new name, the business remained family-owned and operated. Gary started learning the business at an early age, visiting job sites with his grandfather and becoming an apprentice at the age of 17. After earning an MBA at Bradley University, he took over the business as president and CEO.
Foster-Jacob, Inc. is the oldest electrical contractor in central Illinois still owned by the original family. Gary’s daughter, Emily, has even joined the business after earning her degree in business management, making it a four-generation family business. Gary believes being family-owned “lends some credibility and stability. It shows that, yes, we are able to withstand all the different changes in the business climate and economic problems. We’ve been through all of it.” Starting in the Great Depression, when electricity was a new concept in rural homes, and continuing today by wiring everything from residential homes to power plants for AmerenCILCO-while weathering a new recession-his claim has certainly been validated.
While Foster-Jacob, Inc. has seen new wiring methods and larger projects since its conception and has moved out of wind power, the company is currently looking at getting back to its roots with the exploding popularity of the green movement. Gary said, “You have to learn from the previous generations’ experience. That helps you get a running start rather than having to relearn everything. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel. You have to learn from your predecessors, but you also have to be open to learning new things.” iBi