Walter L. Jacobs, 88; Rent-a-Car Pioneer

Walter L. Jacobs, who started the first rent-a-car business in America with a fleet of 12 Model-T Fords and then sold his growing business to John Hertz in 1923, died Wednesday in Miami.

Jacobs was 88 when he died but only 22 in 1918, when he raised enough capital for his first cars, which he painted and maintained himself.

His father was a manufacturers’ representative in Chicago, where Jacobs started his business. He called it, aptly, Rent-a-Car Inc.


Although he sold the fleet to Hertz, who in turn sold it to General Motors Corp., Jacobs continued to serve as president of the firm under both owners.

General Motors did relatively little with its car rental subsidiary and in 1953 sold it to Omnibus, a group of investors Jacobs helped form.

A Hertz spokesman credited Jacobs with creating the franchised agencies that Hertz still maintains, and with introducing credit card use and airport locations as added rental car attractions.

Jacobs retired in 1960 but remained a director of the Hertz corporation until 1968. Hertz had died in 1961.

“American business has lost one of its great leaders, managers and entrepreneurs,” said Frank A. Olson, current chairman and chief executive officer of Hertz. “What Walter Jacobs began with a few Fords many years ago is now a worldwide organization that utilizes nearly 400,000 vehicles and recorded more than 15 million rentals worldwide in 1984 alone.”

Jacobs is survived by his wife, Mildred, and his son, Richard.