Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 3, 2013

1914: Local railroad laborer inherits fortune

When Hans Jacobson looked around his room at the B&O YMCA on Virginia Avenue, he must have wondered at times how he had wound up there; living far from his homeland with no family and barely making enough money to get by.

Bad luck and bad choices would have been the answer he came up with.

Jacobson was a day laborer with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He would never get wealthy doing it, but at least he had a job and a place to live.

Although he didn’t own his own home, the room at the B&O YMCA was nice and it was just across the street from the B&O shops. The YMCA had a bowling alley, gymnasium, reading room, barber shop and auditorium. He could even get a hot meal for a quarter at the lunch counter.

In 1914, he was 39 years old and he had to yearn for what he had left behind.

Jacobson was a native of Copenhagen, Denmark. His father and his maternal grandparents had been wealthy. Because of this, he had grown up never wanting for anything. He had graduated from Copenhagen University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and served three years in the Danish Army, which was required under Danish law. The rigid military life hadn’t agreed with him and when his enlistment ended he decided that he would follow his father into the business world.

Jacobson’s father “died about the time the son was leaving the army and although he had been regarded as a man of considerable wealth after his death it was found that his fortune amounted to little or nothing and there was nothing to distribute to his heirs,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

So Jacobson went to ask his grandfather for help in starting a business. Jacobson’s grandfather, however, wanted his grandson to stay in the military and make it his career. Jacobson tried to explain that he and the military weren’t a good fit.

“Sensing the young man’s determination, the grandfather refused to give him any aid whatever,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Undeterred, Jacobson left Denmark and traveled to England where he tried to get his start in business. He lost a lot of money while there and decided to pursue his dream across the ocean in America.

Once here, he came to live and work in Cumberland.

During his years in America, his grandfather died, followed by his grandmother in February of 1914. Upon his grandmother’s death, she willed her grandson $200,000, which amounts to about $4.65 million today.

“Within the next few days, he will set sail for Copenhagen, there to receive the fortune and celebrate in fine style,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Jacobson’s plan was to return to Cumberland when his grandmother’s estate was settled. A reporter asked him if he planned to buy a piece of the B&O Railroad when he returned.

“No, I won’t buy the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. I’ll come back to this country and take up farming,” Jacobson replied.

Contact James Rada at or 410-698-3571.

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