11/20/2017 Question of the Week

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11/20/2017 Question of the Week

2017-11-20 12:55


If the name “Samuel S. Fels” rings any bells, there’s good reason for it. He was a well-known philanthropist in Philadelphia during the early to mid 20th century who gave to numerous civic, scientific, cultural, and educational causes. 

Fels came into much of his wealth through manufacturing one particular product. Can you guess what it is?

Answer: Soap

Samuel Simeon Fels, youngest son of Lazarus and Susanna Fels, was born in Yanceyville, North Carolina, in 1860. His family moved north to settle in Philadelphia, where in 1876 Samuel joined the soap manufacturing business established that year by his older brother, Joseph. The firm, Fels & Co., was incorporated in 1914, and Samuel became its first president, holding the office until his death in 1950. (The company was sold to Purex Corporation in 1964, itself acquired by the Dial Corporation in the 1980s.  The soap that bears his namesake, Fels-Naptha, is still produced today.) While remaining active in the affairs of Fels & Co., he also became one of Philadelphia's most prominent philanthropists. He took an active interest in, and gave generous support to, civic, scientific, cultural, and educational causes. In 1936 Fels established the Samuel S. Fels Fund, which continues to award funding to local non-profits working in these areas. Fels also helped establish what became known as the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.


Submitted by Ernie Mabrey (not verified) on

With regard to this, I have a letter sent from Samuel S. Fels to James Presser Cooke, President of the Presser Foundation, dated November 7, 1947, and wondered if you were interested in it for your collection.  I have a scanned image of it but seem unable to attach it to this comment here, I can e-mail it if you can provide an e-mail address.

Ernie Mabrey

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