David Jacobs was the elder of two children (with a younger sister) in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. His Jewish parents were of modest means, and Jacobs' father worked as a household appliance salesman. Jacobs was educated at Baltimore City College High School, and received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Soon after graduation, he moved to New York City, where he worked as an illustrator and researcher for Grolier's Encyclopedia. However, he soon branched out as a freelance writer of non-fiction articles, the best known of which concerned the architect and inventor, Buckminster Fuller. He also authored a historical work, written for children, on the great artists of the Renaissance.
His marriage to Lynn Pleshette produced one child, his daughter Alben, but ended in divorce. Later, he married his current wife Diana, and has two children with Diana, Aaron and Molly. Jacobs moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter, and tried his hand at screenwriting. His script for a proposed "Houston" later was adapted for the successful Dallas series.