- FELS, U.S. family of manufacturers and philanthropists. JOSEPH FELS (1853–1914) was born in Halifax County, Virginia. After living in North Carolina, the Fels family moved to Baltimore, where Joseph left school at 15 to join his father's soap manufacturing business. In 1875 he went into the soap business on his own in Philadelphia. He began manufacturing soap and washing powders by the naphtha process in 1893, and by 1896 the Fels-Naphtha Company's products were so successful that Fels was able to devote most of his time to philanthropic causes. He came to believe that his fortune had been amassed by robbing society, and sought to spend it on causes that would end the unregulated free enterprise system which allowed some men to accumulate great wealth at the expense of others. In 1905 he was converted to Henry George's "single tax" philosophy, which Fels preferred to call "Christianity." Fels believed that God had given land to all the people of the earth, and tax on the unearned increments of landowners would enable all society's members to share the land's bounties. Substantial financial contributions by Fels helped the single tax movement throughout the world, especially in England, where he and his wife lived during 1901–11. He proselytized for the single tax wherever he traveled, as well as for various political reform movements. Fels financed colonies in the United States and England that provided work for the unemployed; he supported the women's suffrage movement in the Western world, and helped social welfare agencies in England. Fels organized the first mass deputation of English women to present petitions to Parliament describing the plight of the poor in London's East End. He was one of the first American manufacturers to institute profit sharing for his workers. Fels backed the Zionist movement and was active in the Jewish Territorial Organization. MARY FELS (1863–1953). a distant cousin of her husband Joseph, was born in Sembach, Bavaria, and was taken to the U.S. in 1869. She helped her husband with his projects until his death, after which she concentrated her efforts on Zionist activities. She organized the Joseph Fels Foundation in 1925 to advance human welfare through education and to promote the exchange of culture and ideas, especially between the United States and Ereẓ Israel. Mary Fels edited the magazine The Public (1917–19) and wrote a biography of her husband (1916). SAMUEL SIMEON FELS (1869–1950), Joseph's younger brother, was born in Yanceyville, N.C. A partner in the Fels-Naphtha Company, he funded the Fels Planetarium in Philadelphia (1934). In 1936 he established the Samuel S. Fels Fund to promote research in the natural and physical sciences. He also created the Fels Institute of Local and State Government at the University of Pennsylvania. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Steffens, in: American Magazine (Oct. 1910), 744–6; M. Fels, Joseph Fels, His Life-Work (1916); Howe, in: Survey (March 28, 1914), 812–3; Zangwill, in: Voice of Jerusalem (1921), 337–49; New York Times (May 17, 1953), 88; Kellogg, in: Survey, 86 (1950), 135. (Robert Asher)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.