Reference Entry

Fels, Joseph

Arthur Power Dudden

in American National Biography Online

Published in print January 1999 |
Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1500218

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Fels, Joseph (16 December 1853–22 February 1914), soap manufacturer, reformer, and single-tax evangelist, was born in Halifax Court House, Virginia, the second son of Lazarus Fels, a peddler, and Susannah Freiberg. His Bavarian Jewish parents had immigrated in 1848, coming from near Kaiserslautern. Settling in Yanceyville, North Carolina, Lazarus Fels took over the general store and in 1861 was appointed Confederate States postmaster. Joseph attended classes in Yanceyville and, with his older sisters, a boarding school in Richmond, Virginia. Bankrupted by the Civil War and a failed try at soapmaking, Lazarus Fels moved the family to Baltimore in 1867. At fifteen Joseph ended schooling to work in his father’s second soap business, which also failed; then briefly, at seventeen, he became a traveling coffee salesman. Within a year he and his father became the Baltimore representatives of Charles Elias and Company, a Philadelphia soap house. In 1873 Lazarus moved northward again, this time to Philadelphia. Two years later, Joseph acquired a partnership in Thomas Worsley and Company, a maker of fancy toilet soaps, installing his father in charge of manufacturing. In 1876 Joseph Fels bought out Worsley after founding Fels and Company of Philadelphia in his own name. Fels and Company prospered in the intensely competitive soap business, by 1890 marketing no fewer than 107 varieties....

Reference Entry.  1349 words. 

Subjects: Manufacturing ; History of Manufacturing and Construction ; Social and Cultural History ; Labour and Demographic Economics

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