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Irwin M. Jacobs

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Irwin M. Jacobs
Jacobs in 2005
Irwin Mark Jacobs

(1933-10-18) October 18, 1933 (age 90)
Alma materCornell University (BSc)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MSc, DSc)
Occupation(s)Engineer, businessman
Known forCo-founder of Qualcomm
SpouseJoan Klein (m. 1954, died 2024)
Children4, including Gary E. Jacobs and Paul E. Jacobs
RelativesSara Jacobs (granddaughter)

Irwin Mark Jacobs (born October 18, 1933) is an American electrical engineer and businessman. He is a co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm, and chair of the board of trustees of the Salk Institute. As of 2019, Jacobs has an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion.

Early life and education[edit]

Jacobs was born to a Jewish family in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[1][2][3] He earned his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1956, and his Master of Science and Doctor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1957 and 1959, respectively. His doctoral advisor was Edward Arthurs. He is a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.[4]


Jacobs speaking at UC San Diego in 2023

Jacobs was assistant and associate professor of electrical engineering at MIT from 1959 to 1966 and professor of computer science and engineering at University of California San Diego (UCSD) from 1966 to 1972. With John Wozencraft, he co-authored a textbook entitled Principles of Communication Engineering in 1965, which is still in use today. UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering is named for him and his wife.[5]

In 1968, Jacobs co-founded Linkabit Corporation with Andrew Viterbi to develop satellite encryption devices. That company merged with M/A-COM, Inc. in 1980, becoming M/A-COM Linkabit.[5]

In 1985, Jacobs went on to co-found Qualcomm Inc. along with Viterbi, Harvey White, Adelia Coffman, Andrew Cohen, Klein Gilhousen, and Franklin Antonio. Qualcomm developed the OmniTRACS system that was deemed one of the world's most "technologically advanced two-way mobile satellite communications and tracking systems". He pioneered these systems which use the communication bandwidth more efficiently than the older fixed time-sliced TDMA technology. Its Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) has been adopted as one of two digital standards (the other being Global System for Mobile Communications [GSM]) used in the next generation of cellular telephones in North America at the time. Jacobs announced in March 2009 that he had stepped down as chairman of Qualcomm and that Paul E. Jacobs, his son, would succeed him.[5]


Jacobs was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1982 for contributions to communication theory and practice, and leadership in high-technology product development. He is also a Fellow of the IEEE.[5] He is a member of the Inter-American Dialogue.[6] He is a chairman on the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and is on the international advisory board for the Israel Institute of Technology. He is on the advisory board for the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He is on the board of directors of the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

Irwin Jacobs receiving his honorary doctorate of engineering (honoris causa) from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, 2014

In 1980, Jacobs was the co-recipient, with Andrew J. Viterbi, the 1980 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) biannual award. In 1992, Jacobs was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in High Technology by the Institute of American Entrepreneurs, and in May 1993, he was awarded the American Electronics Association (AEA) "Inventing America's Future" award.[5]

In 1994, for his development of CDMA, Jacobs was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

In 1994, he was also awarded the "Cornell University Entrepreneur of the Year" Award.

In 1995, Jacobs won the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal – For outstanding contributions to telecommunications, including leadership, theory, practice, and product development.[5]

In 2000, Jacobs was inducted into the Wireless Hall of Fame for his role in the cellular industry.[7]

In 2001, Jacobs was awarded the Bower Award for Business Leadership in 2001. [5][8]

In 2004, Jacobs and his wife Joan Jacobs are contributors to public arts and education in San Diego. For this, Jacobs was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in 2004.

In 2005, Jacobs delivered the 2005 commencement speech at MIT,[9] and the 2008 commencement speech at the Jacobs School of Engineering.[10]

In 2007, Jacobs and Viterbi received the 2007 IEEE/RSE Wolfson James Clerk Maxwell Award, for "fundamental contributions, innovation, and leadership that enabled the growth of wireless telecommunications".[11]

In 2009, he was named a Fellow of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).[12]

In 2011, he received[13] the Marconi Prize together with Jack Wolf.

In 2011, he was named a Marconi Prize recipient and Marconi Fellow.[14]

In 2011, Jacobs was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.[15]

In 2012, Jacobs was named the W. P. Carey School of Business Dean's Council of 100 Executive of the Year.[16]

In 2013, Jacobs was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

In 2013, he received the Medal of Honor from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is the highest honor an engineer can receive from his or her peers. The IEEE said he was receiving the award not just for his innovations but for "the ability to translate innovation into industry applications, time after time after time."[17]

In November 2013, he was conferred the title of "Distinguished Honor Chair Professor" of National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.[18][19]

In 2013, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[20]

In August and October 2014, Jacobs was awarded honorary doctorates by National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.[21][22]

In 2014, Jacobs was elected to the Computer History Museum as a Fellow – for "his pioneering work in digital mobile telephony, data and communications, and technology".[23]

In 2015, Jacobs received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.[24]

In 2017, Jacobs received an honorary Doctor of Engineering and Technology degree from Yale University. [25]

In 2017, Jacobs and Viterbi received the IEEE Milestone Award for their CDMA and spread spectrum development that drives the mobile industry.[26]

In February 2018, he was appointed an honorary advisor to the president of National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.

In March 2018, he was named the winner of IMEC Lifetime of Innovation Award.[27]

In July 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of York, UK.[28]

In October 2019, he received the IET Mountbatten Medal in London.[29]


As the co-founder and chairman of Qualcomm, Jacobs has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the field of education through donations and grants to several schools and organizations. His donations have gone mostly towards fellowships and scholarships for students in the fields of engineering and computer science, as well as the arts, and are focused in the San Diego area.[30][31] The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2011 dubbed him the "Philanthropist in Chief".[32]

As of September 2009, Jacobs had donated a total of $31 million to his post graduate degrees school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had donated $15 million and another $110 million to the University of California San Diego where he was a professor of computer science and engineering for several years. Additionally, he has donated $62 million total to the American Society for Technion, his alma mater Cornell University, and KPBS Radio and Television.[30] His KPBS donation was in the sum of $1 million, and the multi-year gift is designed to strengthen the station's local journalism and news collaboration with NPR. The Jacobs have donated funds to build studios for KPBS and have supported the station for decades.[33] In 2010, he funded an engineering study on how to fulfill a proposal to remove automobiles from the Plaza de Panama in San Diego's Balboa Park and agreed to chair a committee to study the proposal and develop private funding for it.[34]

Irwin and Joan Jacobs donated $5 million in 2002 to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego downtown location for the renovation of the former train station baggage building which was named in their honor.[35]

Jacobs has pledged $120 million for the San Diego Symphony, a similar amount for the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego, $100 million for UCSD's future specialty hospital and $20 million to replace the central library in downtown San Diego. Also in 2005, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for La Jolla Playhouse was named after Jacobs and his wife in honor of their philanthropic contributions towards the institution's development.[31][36] In April 2013, the Jacobs donated $133 million to the joint Cornell Tech campus development on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

The Joan and Irwin Jacobs TIX Institute at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, was sponsored by Jacobs with the mission of encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.[37]

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation announced in January 2022 that it was renaming its list of pending United States Supreme Court cases the "Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket" in honor of the couple's $20 million gift, the largest one-time endowment gift in the organization's history.[38]

The Giving Pledge[edit]

In August 2010, Irwin and Joan Jacobs joined the Giving Pledge, pledging to give away most of their fortune to philanthropy.[36]

Personal life[edit]

In 1954, Jacobs married a New York City native, dietician, and fellow Cornell graduate (1952), Joan Klein.[39] They reside in La Jolla, California, and have four sons.[40] Their son Paul E. Jacobs succeeded Irwin as CEO of Qualcomm until stepping down in March 2014. Jeff Jacobs was the chief marketing officer of Qualcomm. Hal Jacobs, the second oldest, played on the 1985 USA Maccabiah Games volleyball team, and is a co-producer of the musical Jersey Boys. Their eldest son, Gary E. Jacobs, is the head of the board of the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High Charter School.[5] His granddaughter, Sara Jacobs, a Democratic politician, is the representative for California's 53rd congressional district.[41] His wife, Joan Jacobs, died on May 6, 2024 at the age of 91, following a lengthy illness. Her celebration of life included a public memorial that was held at The Rady Shell on May 13, 2024.[42]


  1. ^ Berkman, Jacob (September 2, 2011). "Jews take 5 of top 6 spots in annual list of top US givers". Jerusalem Post.
  2. ^ "Jewish Philanthropy 2.0". February 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Jewish Telegraph Agency: "Among America’s Mega- Donors, Many Jews, but Few Gifts to Jews" February 24, 2004
  4. ^ a b Irwin M Jacobs Trustee Bio. University of California, San Diego Foundation, accessed December 30, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Irwin M. Jacobs Bio. IEEE Global History Network, accessed December 30, 2010.
  6. ^ "Inter-American Dialogue | Irwin Jacobs". www.thedialogue.org. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  7. ^ Wireless History Foundation (2010). "Irwin M. Jacobs". Wireless Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 19, 2024.
  8. ^ [1], National Medal of Technology – 1994 Recipients.
  9. ^ "Commencement address by Irwin M. Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm". MIT News. June 3, 2005. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
  10. ^ "Jacobs School Ring Ceremony 2008". UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering. June 19, 2008. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
  11. ^ "IEEE/RSE Wolfson James Clerk Maxwell Award Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  12. ^ Science, American Association for the Advancement of (December 18, 2009). "AAAS News and Notes". Science. 326 (5960): 1656–1660. Bibcode:2009Sci...326.1656.. doi:10.1126/science.326.5960.1656.
  13. ^ "Irwin Jacobs and Jack Wolf Win 2011 Marconi Prize, Known as the Nobel of Information Technology". jacobsschool.ucsd.edu.
  14. ^ "2011 Marconi Prize goes to giants of cellular communications, data storage". October 15, 2012. Archived from the original on October 15, 2012.
  15. ^ Sprekelmeyer, Linda, editor. These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-1-57864-397-4.
  16. ^ "Qualcomm's Irwin M. Jacobs: Technologies that Changed Our Lives". March 2, 2024.
  17. ^ Freeman, Mike (June 11, 2013). "Qualcomm founder Jacobs gets IEEE award". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  18. ^ "Distinguished Honor Chair Professor of National Tsing Hua University, Hsin Chu, TAIWAN". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  19. ^ "A Mesmerizing and Intellectually Stimulating Visit of a Giant: Qualcomm Founder Irwin Jacobs Visit to National Tsing Hua University" (PDF).
  20. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  21. ^ "Honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering for Irwin Mark Jacobs by National Tsing Hua University, TAIWAN, 2014".
  22. ^ "Honorary Degrees and Fellowships | The Hong Kong Polytechnic University".
  23. ^ "Irwin Jacobs 2014 Fellow". Archived from the original on January 5, 2015. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
  24. ^ "Joan and Irwin M. Jacobs Receive Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy for 2015". San Diego Business Journal. August 25, 2015.
  25. ^ "Yale awards honorary degrees to eight individuals for their achievements". YaleNews. May 18, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2024.
  26. ^ "Qualcomm and Its Founders Recognized for Historic Electronics Milestone". IEEE. November 8, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  27. ^ "Imec Honors Qualcomm Founder Irwin M. Jacobs With Lifetime Of Innovation Award". The Independent Global Source for the Flexible and Printed Electronics Industry.
  28. ^ "Honorary graduates for 2019 announced". University of York.
  29. ^ "Winner of 2019 IET Mountbatten Medal". 2019.
  30. ^ a b Irwin Jacob's philanthropy profile. Faces of Philanthropy, accessed December 28, 2010.
  31. ^ a b Potiker Theatre Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. La Jolla Playhouse, accessed December 28, 2010.
  32. ^ "Philanthropist-in-chief". San Diego Union Tribune. August 25, 2011. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  33. ^ San Diego's Wealthiest: Irwin M. Jacobs. Allbusiness, accessed January 7, 2011.
  34. ^ "$33M Restoration Planned At Balboa Park". San Diego 10 News. August 30, 2010. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  35. ^ Pincus, Robert (March 28, 2010). "The Contemporary Collectors behind MCASD". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved January 24, 2022.
  36. ^ a b A Commitment to Sharing Wealth. Sign On San Diego News, accessed December 28, 2010.
  37. ^ "TIX Introduction". tix.proj.nthu.edu.tw. Archived from the original on May 14, 2017.
  39. ^ Cornell University Alumni Affairs and Development: Visiting Fellow Profile Irwin & Joan Jacobs retrieved March 21, 2013
  40. ^ Forbes The World's Billionaires: Irwin Jacobs March 2019
  41. ^ Schleifer, Theodore (March 4, 2020). "A tech billionaire spent millions to elect his granddaughter. It's working". Vox. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  42. ^ "Joan Jacobs, San Diego community leader and philanthropist, dies at 91". San Diego Union-Tribune. May 7, 2024. Retrieved May 20, 2024.

External links[edit]

Preceded by IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal
Succeeded by
Preceded by
IEEE/RSE Wolfson James Clerk Maxwell Award
Succeeded by
Preceded by IEEE Medal of Honor
Succeeded by