J. Warren Jacobs (1868 1947) was a self-taught ornithologist
and oologist (one who specializes in the study and collection of bird
eggs). Jacobs, a native of Waynesburg in Greene County, Pennsylvania,
gained an international reputation as an expert on the construction
of birdhouses for purple martins following publication of his Story
of a Martin Colony in 1903. The booklet detailed his observations
of a purple martin colony he established at his home in Waynesburg
beginning in 1896,
Jacobs' birdhouses were multiple-story structures complemented
by broad porches, railings, and ornate window treatments. Jacobs
traveled to the Chicago World's Fair to display his extensive egg
collection and his handmade purple martin houses. Jacobs received
so many requests for duplicates of his unusual birdhouses that he
established the J. Warren Jacobs Co. as the first commercial manufacturer
of purple martin houses in the United States in 1883. Jacobs went
on to design even more elaborate houses, including a replica of
the state capital building. Jacobs' customers included Henry Ford,
William Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.
In 1920, the company became the J. Warren Jacobs and Sons Company,
with E. Bryan Jacobs as his father's principal assistant. Products
included houses for purple martins, wrens, chickadees, and other
birds, as well as bird feeders and a complex self-raising pole system.
Following the death of J. Warren Jacobs in 1947, the company's assets
were liquidated and the plans placed in storage.
After nearly half a century, the Jacobs Birdhouse Company once
again began to produce birdhouses to the original designs of J.
Warren Jacobs. Most of the birdhouses were built to order for Greene
County residents familiar with the Jacobs story.
In 1997, George Blystone (Bly), Kent Fonner, and Dan Moore attended
several local festivals, setting up exhibits of the original Jacobs
houses still in existence, as well as handing out questionnaires
to gauge both possible consumer interest in replicas of the original
houses, and to get a feel for possible price ranges for the houses.
The response to the questionnaires was positive.
In late 1997, Kent and his sister, Ann Blystone, attended a workshop
held by the Small Business Development Center of the University
of Pittsburgh. There, they obtained information about starting a
small family business based upon the old J. Warren Jacobs and Sons
Co. birdhouse manufacturing business liquidated in the early 1950's.
In 1998 Dan, Kent, Bly, and Ann met with Jeanine Henry of the Small
Business Development Center in Greene County. Bly, Kent, and Dan
secured a $6,000 personal loan from Community Bank in Waynesburg,
PA as start-up money. This loan was used to purchase shop equipment,
supplies, and materials for a small business to be called The Jacobs
Birdhouse Company. A general partnership was formed between Bly,
Kent, and Dan and a business permit was secured from Franklin Township,
and the shop was set up in Bly's garage.
The Jacobs Birdhouse Company is a small family business based on
Kent and Ann's grandfathers' business. J. Harold Jacobs, as son
of J. Warren Jacobs, drew the plans used to build current production
houses. Harold was an architect and a partner with his brothers
in the business after his father died. Bly and Dan work in the shop
as often as they can. Kent does all the legal work for the company,
and also advertises in New England (his state of residence). Ann
keeps the books and handles advertising for the company, spending
about two hours a day five days a week on the paperwork.
Most advertising for The Jacobs Birdhouse Company is done via word-of-mouth,
local papers, and one national magazine, The Collector. We have
built up many clients with whom we keep in touch with. We have contacted
Walt Disney World as a possible client, and have also talked to
the Greene County Commissioners about building houses for their
parks and trails.
Each year, the company attends many festivals to showcase their
products and raise general awareness of their company. These festivals
include: The National Pike Festival, Rain Day, The Covered Bridge
Festival, and The Harvest Festival.