Yaacov Papo was born in Jerusalem in 1864. His family had arrived there from Bulgaria in 1826. The name "Papo" in Hebrew is an acronym of "Pnei Elohim Peer Vehadar" (the face of God is lorry and elegance). Yaacov Papo attended the "Alliance" School in Jerusalem and the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School and then was sent to study mechanical engineering in Paris.
On his return to Israel, he worked in digging wells and in 1887, he settled in Rishon Le Zion. Here, he was given the job of building the newly-established Rishon Le Zion winery and installing the machinery. He introduced methods unknown before in Israel – steam power for sawing, drilling and machining processes. Work at the winery necessitated bringing heavy, complicated loads from the Jaffa port to Rishon Le Zion in the very difficult conditions of the time: unpaved roads and almost no motorized transport. Papo put together a special steel cart for this purpose, pulled by ten horses.
Yaacov Papo installed the first steam machine (Locomobile) and, for more than a decade, installed all the machines and engines. The well he dug for the winery supplied water for half of the new Jewish settlement. He also installed the first dynamo for the production of electricity and the first internal telephone at the winery.
Yaacov Papo was appointed chief mechanic of the winery and set up a workshop for maintenance of all the mechanical equipment. By preparing the work tools and parts in Israel, he created a source of employment and professional training for many Hebrew workers. Later on he developed a method of using steam emitted from the machines for other means of production. His professional activities extended beyond Rishon Le Zion to Petach Tikva where he installed steel equipment to pump drinking water and at Mikve Israel was involved in finding ways to drill artesian wells. He was also the first to introduce engine-powered mechanical well-drilling equipment.
In 1904 Yaacov Papo left Rishon Le Zion and moved to Jaffa where he founded his own workshop. Tragically, one of the machines in his workshop caused him a injury and he later died of gangrene as a result of the accident.