Fels Family
Lazarus Fels and Susan (Susannah) Freiburg married in Bavaria in 1842 and left for the United States in 1848. They settled for a while in Halifax Court House, Virginia, where Joseph Fels, the fourth child, was born. There, Lazarus Fels sold household wares. Joseph's siblings were named: Abraham; Bertha; Barbara; Maurice; Samuel Simeon; and Rosena. The family then moved to Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina, where Lazarus became owner of the town's general store and later postmaster. He acquired a considerable amount of land in Yanceyville and in 1855 he renounced his Bavarian citizenship in a North Carolina court of law. Joseph enrolled in school in Yanceyville, and during the last two years of the Civil War attended a boarding school in Richmond, Virginia. Exhibiting the traits of an entrepreneur from a young age, he established a kite repair and sales shop in his basement at the age of fourteen.

The family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1866, where Fels and Company was established by Lazarus and his son, Abraham, for the manufacture of fancy soaps. At the age of sixteen, Joseph left school and joined the family business, but when it failed he became a commission salesman, selling coffees for the firm of Festor and Sellman. Joseph and his father also became Baltimore representatives for two Philadelphia toilet soap houses, William T. Marks and Charles Elias and Company. In 1873 the family moved to Philadelphia and Joseph soon established connections to the city's oldest toilet soap house, Thomas Worsley and Company. Three years later Joseph acquired Thomas Worsley and Company and renamed it Fels and Company of Philadelphia. Joseph's father and brothers were employees of his company, and in 1881 Lazarus Fels and Samuel Simeon Fels were elevated to junior partners. Maurice Fels became a partner of the firm in 1907 and eventually assumed the posts of vice president and director. Abraham Fel's connections to the business were sporadic; he spent much of his later life pursuing his own tea merchandising and poultry raising ventures.

In 1894 Joseph Fels acquired Charles Walter Stanton's formula for soap when he purchased Stanton's mismanaged soap company. The soap was remarkable for its ability to cut through grease and grime due to the presence of a benzene solvent called naphtha. A successful marketing campaign ensued and brought about a dramatic increase in the sales of soap. Eventually Fels and Company discontinued production of all other varieties of soap and concentrated soley upon Fels-Naptha (the first "h" dropped for commercial convenience).

In 1901, Joseph Fels and his wife Mary moved to England to introduce there Fels-Naptha soap and to address social issues relating to the poor. In December 1913, Joseph and Mary left England to return to the United States. Later that month, after years of disagreement regarding the management of their jointly-held company, Joseph and his brother, Samuel, consented to an arbitration of the assets of Fels and Company, which was undertaken by Louis Brandeis. The tangible assets of the company were appraised and divided and the partnership was amicably transformed into a corporation. Joseph died the next year.
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