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News Article
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Montgomery County’s First Controller
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

            The Montgomery County Controller's office was established in 1911 and it was the responsibility of the Controller (then called Comptroller) to supervise all fiscal

Born in Sumneytown, Dr. John N. Jacobs was Montgom-

ery County's first Controller. 

affairs of the county.  That included keeping a full set of detailed books and records and filing an annual report with all receipts and expenditures with the Court of Common Pleas and the Department of Internal Affairs.

            It was an important undertaking and from the time Montgomery County was created in 1874 until 1911 the tasks were performed by three auditors.

            John N. Jacobs, Montgomery County's first Controller, was a medical doctor with a very successful track record in business.  Born in Sumneytown, PA, in1839, his business career was highlighted by his knack for pulling broke banks from the brink of disaster to financial success.

            Jacobs was an outspoken advocate for the pay-as-you-go method for running a business;  that included county government.  His prowess for creating havoc among county and state officials is legendary.  He even accused President William Howard Taft's administration of losing control of the national government when they created 75,000 superfluous jobs that Jacobs said were filled by ambulance chasers.

            But, here we'll take a look at John N. Jacobs before he became Controller of

Lieutenant John N. Jacobs served as

Surgeon of Volunteers during the Civil

War under General Ulysses S. Grant

and General William Tecumseh

Sherman until the end of the war

Montgomery County.

            John attended the local schools of Marlborough Township until he was 14-years-old.  At that age, he entered the Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg.  He went on to the Pennsylvania College of Philadelphia where he graduated in 1861 with full honors as a physician and surgeon.

            Many of Jacobs' classmates in college were from the south. With the impending Civil War, his days were filled with arguments and heated discussions about it.  He was thoroughly disgusted by it and swore that if war broke out, he would enlist.

            When war did break out, he was so eager to enlist that he did so without telling the enrollment officer that he was a doctor.  Instead, he casually remarked to the officer that he could easily get 30 or 40 more boys from Montgomery County to sign up.

            The enrollment officer told him that if he did so, he would make him a Second Lieutenant.  Well, Jacobs did so and was made a Second Lieutenant in Company M of the 8th PA Cavalry. A year later he was promoted to First Lieutenant.

            During fighting near Richmond, VA,  Jacobs' horse fell on his leg and dislocated his ankle.  After recuperating for six-weeks, Jacobs was back in action.  Only this time as Surgeon of Volunteers, serving with the Army of the Potomac.  He served with them until after the Battle of Gettysburg.

            He then was sent to Vicksburg where he served with General Ulysses S. Grant's army until he was sent to Chattanooga and served under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.  After the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, he traveled with Sherman to Knoxville, KY. 

            He spent the winter of 1863-64 camped along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and later in 1864 traveled with Sherman to Atlanta, GA.  After the city fell, he went with the troops to Savannah and then headed back north.  He was with Sherman when his troops marched on Richmond, VA.

            He was discharged in June of 1865 with.  Under the law, he could have drawn a pension for his service.  He never did.

            After the war, Dr. Jacobs opened a medical practice in Kulpsville, PA and later in Lansdale, PA.  Former editor of The Reporter newspaper and Lansdale historian Dick Shearer, in "A Town is Born", wrote: "The undisputed founder among founders was Dr. John N. Jacobs who was the first to sign Lansdale's petition for incorporation in 1872. Forward-thinking, outspoken and fiercely independent, Jacobs played a part in the town's development for more than 50 years, at least 20 as an elected official on the local and county level."

            It was during his time in Lansdale that he developed his skills as a savvy businessman and went on to many successes in banking and real estate and eventually landed the position as the first Controller of Montgomery County.  He also earned the ire of many politicians for his frugalness and demand for accountability from all elected officials.  The Philadelphia Inquirer called him "the arch-guardian of taxpayer's interests."

            But, that's a story for another time.





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