Early Life and Education
Jacobo Zobel Y Zangroniz was born in Manila on October 12, 1842. His father was a German named Jacobo Zobel Hinsch, and his mother was Dona Ana Zangroniz y Arrieta, the daughter of a Manila Supreme Court Justice. At age six, young Jacobo went to Hamburg, Germany to study. Years after, he went to Madrid to finish his “bachillerato” and Pharmacy at the Universidad Central de Madrid. He also thereafter took up studies in the Natural Sciences including Medicine, Chemistry, and Archeology in its branches of Ancient History, Liberal Arts and Numismatics. His interests in Numismatics and Archeology prompted him to do extensive travelling. He thus learned to speak Latin, Greek, Etruscan, Chaldean, French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Portugese, Russian, and Japanese languages.
After years of study and travel, he returned to Manila to manage his father’s business, the Botica Zobel. During which time, he also collected art treasures and books and made a sort of cultural center for talented young people. The “Casino Espanol” was largely the result of his efforts to make his home city more cultured.
The appointment of Liberal Governor General Carlos Dela Torre gave young Jacobo an opportunity to work for educational reforms in his native country. Working always in the background, he found it effective to work as a secretary, leaving the positions of prominence to others people.
As member of the Manila Municipal Board and the economic Society of Friends of the Country, he campaigned for Philippine representation in the Spanish “Cortes”, limitations to the absolute power of the Governor General, and the reorganization of the civil and religious administrations. These activities made him suspicious during the Cavite revolt of 1872. Although no formal charges were filed against him, he was listed as a suspect and was soon put in prison on a charge of sedition. Such charge was mainly the result of his activities as secretary of the first Scottish Rite Lodge established by foreigners.
Premier Filipino Mason
Dubbed by Past Grand Master and historian Teodoro M. Kalaw as the “Premiere Filipino Mason”, young Jacobo became a member of the first Lodge in Manila founded by a German consul-general and was later elected as its Lodge Secretary. The Lodge was composed of foreigners, mostly Germans, some Spaniards and a few Filipinos (Philippine-born Spaniards). On September 22, 1874, Jacobo, together with a Spanish citizen and Mason, Col. Francisco Moscoso, was thrown into Fort Santiago. His friends in Germany made representations with Prince Bismarck who promptly telegraphed the Spanish Government directly that Mr. Zobel was innocent of the charges and that proceedings in Manila be postponed until full investigation be made. This saved him from execution.
After his release, he married Dona Trinidad de Ayala, by whom he later had five children; Fernando (1846-1849), Enrique (1877-1943), Alfonso, twin of Enrique (1877-1882), Margarita (1881-1960), and Gloria (1882-1883).
His trip to Japan enabled him to know the government and educational systems as well as the activities of the Catholic missions in that country which later became the subject of his book written in French. From San Francisco and New York, he went to Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and purchased a typewriter. His use of this typewriter in his letters to German friends aroused the curiosity of Hamburg authorities, whose inquiries resulted in Germany purchasing its first typewriter.
As a businessman, he became a capitalist partner of Ayala y Cia from 1876-1891. He was treasurer and counselor of Banco Espanol Filipino de Isabel II (the first bank in the Philippines, now known as BPI) from 1866-1869 and was partner of Sociedad Agricola dela Vega de Labrija in Sevilla, Spain in 1880.
The first bicycle ever to be used in Manila were imported by Jacobo in the later part of the 19th century. The bicycle components came from the Eiffel Company, the same company which built the Eiffel tower in Paris. Jacobo Zobel was Eiffel’s sole agent to Manila. His representation of Manila in the Eiffel Corporation led to the construction of the Ayala and Quinta bridges. As a traveled Filipino in the 19th Century, he pioneered in introducing foreign goods to the Philippines in his desire to see his country and its people advance in both the economic and cultural levels.
With the backing of the Spanish banker, E. Bayo, of Madrid, Spain, Jacobo Zobel succeeded in establishing the first tramway line in the Philippines. During its operation, it facilitated the transportation of the people commuting between Manila and Malabon in Rizal. Instead of using steam to power them, he utilized horses to pull the tramcars which ran on permanent tracks.
Highly regarded by the Spanish authorities for his travels, writings, and valuable services to the community, Jacobo Zobel was appointed the Mayor of Manila and later named a Director of Banco National Filipino.
Jacobo Zobel was a respected member of the Real Academia dela Historia. He wrote Estudio Historico dela Moneda Antigua Espanola desda Su Origen hasta el Imperio Romano. He received several awards which included Gran Cruz dela Real Orden Americana de Isabel la Catolica, and Caballero dela Orden de Carlos III. The King of Spain appointed him as a member of the Consejo de administration 1882. He likewise served as member of the Junta de Aranceles (Tariff Board), real Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais, Junta Central de Agricultura, and was the municipal pharmacist for Intramuros.
Few people can boast of such a well-lived biography. Jacobo Zobel certainly ranks high as one of those people. His love of country and fellowmen go beyond those that are revered. He was considered an equal among the intellectual peers of his time, possessing courage and determination to free our country from the bondage of Spain’s iniquities. His invaluable contribution to the advancement of the political, economic, social, and moral standing of the Philippines and the Filipinos in the 19th century has earned him his rightful place in the history of the Philippine revolution. As such, Bro. Jacobo Zobel should be exalted to the realms of national heroes.
extracted from the condensed work of WM Harry Gonzalez