Born in Neustadt, Poland (now Kudirkos Naumiestis, Lithuania), he was the sixth child and third son of Duvvid Schubart and Katrina Helwitz. Jacob was still a small child when the family emigrated to the United States, settling in Syracuse, New York where a number of Jewish families from their hometown were already living.
His father's alcoholism kept the family in difficult financial circumstances and both he and his older brothers received little in the way of education and had no choice but to go to work at a young age. With borrowed money, he and brothers Sam and Lee Shubert eventually embarked on a business venture that led to them becoming the successful operators of several theatre houses in upstate New York.
The Shubert brothers decided to expand their theatrical operations and in 1900 Sam and Lee Shubert moved to New York City leaving Jacob at home to manage their existing theatres. In New York, the elder Shuberts laid the foundations for what was to become the largest theatre empire in the 20th century including Broadway's Winter Garden and Shubert Theatres. However, in 1905 Sam Shubert was traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on business when the passenger train he was on collided with several freight cars and he died as a result of injuries sustained in the train wreck. His death changed the brother's business dynamics and Jacob assumed a much larger role.
Together, although often feuding, Jacob and Lee Shubert overcame the stranglehold on the industry by the Theatrical Syndicate's monopoly under Abe Erlanger and Mark Klaw to build the largest theatre empire in the 20th century.
Jacob Shubert's son, John, took over as head of the operations in the 1950s but died unexpectedly in 1962 and a year later, Jacob died around age 84.