Joseph Fels (1853-1914) was an American soap manufacturer, millionaire, and philanthropist.
Born of German Jewish immigrants in Halifax County, Virginia, Fels moved with his family to Baltimore in 1866; by 1876 he'd assumed control of a soap manufacturing company based in Philadelphia, and brought two of his brothers in as partners shortly after. One of them, Samuel Simeon Fels, became president of the firm.
In 1894 he developed the Fels-Naptha soap brand, historically used as a home remedy in the treatment of contact dermatitis caused by exposure to poison ivy, poison oak, and other oil-transmitted organic skin-irritants. The soap is still marketed by the Dial Corporation as of 2011.
While his own fortune rapidly accumulated, as early as 1890 Fels had become an adherent of Henry George and his proposed land value tax. Fels funded the founding of the Georgist colony of Arden, Delaware, in 1900, managed by architect Will Price and sculptor Frank Stephens. This was one of several experimental labor colonies he funded. In 1894 he made financial contributions to the founding of the single-tax colony in Fairhope, Alabama, and many similar experiments in England.
From 1906 through 1912 Fels also contributed to the Jewish Territorialist Organization, in hopes that a Jewish homeland would be founded along Georgist principle. His wife Mary continued to support this cause after Fels' death on February 22nd, 1914; his brother Samuel also remained an active philanthropist. Fels also gave money to the Russian Social Democratic (Communist) party. [Source: Simon Sebag Montefiore, "Young Stalin."]
- The Joseph and Mary Fels Papers, including correspondence and other printed materials, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.