Edward “Eddie” Jacobson was born in New York’s Lower East Side on June 17, 1891. His parents, David and Sarah Rubin Jacobson were impoverished Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. Jacobson had three brothers and two sisters. The family moved to Kansas in 1893, settling in Leavenworth, before finally relocating to Kansas City, Missouri in 1905.
Jacobson met Harry Truman in 1905, when both worked in Kansas City. They renewed their acquaintance in 1917 when they reported for basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma where they operated a canteen during World War I.
In 1919, they opened a haberdashery. While their business was initially successful, during the panic of 1921–22 the enterprise collapsed. Jacobson spent the rest of his career as a traveling salesman, which enabled him to periodically visit Truman in Washington after he became president.
Jacobson, aware of the international plight of Jews, discussed with Truman the refugee and Palestine partition issues. Because Jewish leaders in the U.S. knew Jacobson was a friend of the president, they encouraged him to lobby Truman to support the Zionist cause. Truman, however, had become increasingly irritated by Jewish pressure and had issued instructions that he did not want to see any more of their spokesmen.
On March 13, 1948, at a critical moment in the period preceding the establishment of the State of Israel, he urged the reluctant president to see Chaim Weizmann by relating him to Truman’s idol. “Your hero is Andrew Jackson,” Jacobson said. “I have a hero too. He’s the greatest Jew alive. I’m talking about Chaim Weizmann. He’s an old man and very sick, and he has traveled thousands of miles to see you. And now you’re putting him off. This isn’t like you, Harry.”
Truman agreed to meet with Weizmann and was convinced to back away from a State Department attempt to scuttle partition by proposing a trusteeship for Palestine. The United States subsequently became the first nation to grant diplomatic recognition to the new state of Israel on May 14, 1948.
In 1949, Jacobson visited Israel, where he met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Weizmann. After Truman’s retirement in 1953, Jacobson had wanted to be his escort for his first visit to Israel. However, before he had the chance, he died of a heart attack in 1955.
At Jacobson’s death, Truman eulogized him for his trustworthiness, warmly recollecting their intimate association.
Jacobson’s memoirs of his association with Truman were published in the American Jewish Archives (vol. 20 (1968), 3–15). He also wrote a letter detailing his intervention when it appeared Truman was wobbling on his support for the establishment of a Jewish state.