Russell Keller Laros

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Russell Keller (R.K.) Laros (June 28, 1893 - November 12, 1955) [1] was an American industrialist who started the Russel K. Laros Silk Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Under his leadership, the Laros Silk Company became one of the country’s top silk manufacturers and one of the most influential companies in Bethlehem in the first half of the 20th Century. Since 1952, the Laros’ charitable foundation, The Laros Foundation, has given away close to $7.5 million to support various causes in the Bethlehem region. [2]

Early life[edit]

Russell K. Laros was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, the son of Eliza and Alvin Laros. He was the youngest of three boys. R. K. Laros was raised in the city of Easton, where his father worked as a carpenter, making caskets. He attended Lafayette College. At Lafayette, he studied electrical engineering, played the organ, and was a member of Omega Delta Phi Fraternity and the Interfraternity Bowling League. [3]


Laros began his career in 1914 at the Standard Oil Company of New York. Shortly after, he began working for Lehigh Valley Light and Power Company as a power engineer, where he was promoted to commercial manager. Laros then worked for a brief stint at the Public Service Company of New York. He returned to the Lehigh Valley in 1918 to accept the position of general manager of electrical construction at H.D. Crowder, Jr., an electrical company then based in Easton, Pennsylvania. [4]

With ambitions to start his own company, Laros looked at the silk and textile trade industry, which was booming in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. Between 1914 and 1919, the value of silk products in the United States nearly tripled, from $254 million in 1914 to $688 million in 1919. [5]

In 1919, Laros founded the R.K. Laros Silk factory in the Miller Heights section of Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania. The company began as a silk throwing operation. In 1922, Laros opened a larger factory on East Broad Street in Bethlehem. [6]

With the larger facility, Laros began to use the silk threads they produced to make retail products, expanding potential markets. This began with lace for curtains, doilies, pillow cases, and other luxury goods. [7]

In 1926, Laros began making slips. Soon after, he started a subsidiary corporation of the R.K. Laros Silk Company, called the Laros Textiles Company. [8]

Important to R.K. Laros was supporting causes he believed in within the Bethlehem community. In 1926, he was elected as President of the Bethlehem Rotary Club as well as to the board of St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem. [9] On June 21, 1926, Laros began a three-year term on the Board of Trustees at St. Luke’s Hospital, a cause near to his heart. Years later, Laros wrote, “no greater privilege can come to anyone than an opportunity to minister to his fellow man when he is sick in body or spirit.” [10]

In the early 1930s, along with many industries in the country, the textile industry felt the effects of the Great Depression. In some cases, labor disputes turned violent.[11] Throughout the Depression, Laros continued thriving and running at capacity, guaranteeing their more than 2,000 workers a 40-hour work week. At this time, one in eight pairs of stockings in the country came from the Laros factory on East Broad. [12]

In 1938, Laros revealed the Laros Dimensional slip. In the earlier part of the 1930s, surveys revealed that less than 50 percent of women could fit into slips made at the time. In response to this need, Laros developed the uniquely designed Dimensional slip to fit all nine basic body types. It was revolutionary in the women’s undergarment industry. At that time, it was said that profits of the R.K. Laros Company equaled those of other leading companies in the silk and ladies’ undergarment trade. [13]

As a follow-up to the Dimensional slip, Laros introduced “no ride” technology to prevent slips from riding up. The resulting slip was Laros’s most successful product. The company sold over eight million Dimensional slips that incorporated no ride technology in the 1940s.[14]

As the second World War loomed closer to the U.S. in 1941, Laros decided to sell off a larger portion of his silk weaving equipment, and the company began to use the new textile materials—rayon and nylon. The R. K. Laros Silk Company contributed to the war efforts between 1943 and 1945 by producing uniforms for soldiers, thousands of naval signal flags, and parachutes. Most of these parachutes were fragmentation bomb parachutes designed for low-level aerial runs, which allowed the aircraft enough time to escape before bomb impact. The Laros company received a commendation from the Ordnance Department for their streamlined approach to the parachutes. [15]

In addition to his company’s parachute effort, during the War, Laros served on the Bethlehem Municipal Water Authority, as treasurer for Bethlehem Friends of Music, and on the Board of Directors for Bethlehem’s Community Chest.  He also continued to serve on the Board at St. Luke’s Hospital. [16] On the board at St. Luke’s Hospital, Laros rubbed elbows with some of the Lehigh Valley’s elite industrialists, including Harry Trexler, Eugene Grace, and Charles Schwab. [17]

Laros also served as vice president of the Bethlehem Bach Choir. In 1944, Laros joined the Special Committee for the Reorganization of the Bach Choir, which created a model still followed by the Choir today. [18]

Another of Laros’s contributions to the city of Bethlehem was the Young Man’s Christian Association of Bethlehem in 1941, where he served as Chairman of the Board. The YMCA still operates on East Broad Street today. [19]

In 1950, the R.K. Laros Company switched from woven nylon thread to nylon tricot, which was the beginning of the Company’s downfall in the textile market. [20]

In 1951, a year and a half into the Korean War, President Truman called for a “mechanism for the authoritative coordination of an integrated and effective program to meet the nation’s requirements for blood, blood derivatives, and related substances.” [21] At the time, the Laros Company had a decade’s worth of research under its belt on the field of synthetic plasma. With encouragement with a long-time friend, patent lawyer Colonel Tulman, Laros invested in a new technique that converted sugar molecules into a structure comparable to human blood plasma. The almost colorless liquid, called “Plavolex," consisted of altered cane sugar and alcohol molecules in a saline solution. Plavolex did not replace the need for actual human blood, but it did work to safely expand or dilute existing blood. [22] In 1952, Laros received a contract from the government for Plavolex “to be used in the armed services as well as civil defense.” [23]

As record of Laros' mark on the textile industry, there are United States 10 patents in Laros Company names--four in the R.K. Laros Silk Company name, four in the R.K. Laros Company name, and one in the name of the Laros Textiles Company . One patent, for Woven Textile Item and Filament Yarn, is in the name of R.K. Laros himself. [24]

Also in 1952, Russell and Helen Laros became the founding trustees of the Laros Industries Foundation to support, “any community chest, fund, or foundation organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes.” The Laros Foundation still supports the social well-being of communities in Bethlehem today. [25]

Personal life[edit]

Laros married Helen Kostenbader on September 8, 1918. Helen’s family owned Eagle Brewing Company in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, known for its signature “Old Dutch Beer.” Together, Russell and Helen had five children—Peggy, Jean, Joan, Sonia, and Russell Keller Laros Jr. [26]

In 1929, Laros began construction of his family home. Sunset Acres, a sixty-acre estate on Center Street in Bethlehem, was completed in 1932. The mansion stayed in the family until after Helen’s death in 1967. [27] In 2012, the estate made its way back into the Laros family when Peter Shelton, son of Peggy (Laros) and Talbot Shelton [28] and his wife, Laura Bennett Shelton, bought it as a weekend home. Following Peter’s death in 2012, in 2013, Laura Bennett Shelton relocated her family and business to Sunset Acres full time. [29]

Throughout his life, Russell K. Laros was a spiritual man. He and his family attended services at the Rosemont Lutheran Church in Bethlehem every Sunday. Laros was named honorary chairman of the church building and served as President of Rosemont Lutheran Church in 1947. [30]

Laros was musically talented, and he played the pipe organ and piano throughout his life. His love of music resonated in everything he did and fit well into Bethlehem, a city that had (and still has) the reputation of being a world center of musical culture. When he passed away at Sunset Acres in 1955, The Executive Committee of the Bach Choir wrote, “The death of Russell K. Laros is the loss of a friend and colleague whose knowledge of music and whose continuing support and encouragement have been among the decisive forces in the development of the Choir.” [31]

Today, Laros’s name lives on through the R.K. Laros Foundation, which has supported the cultural and social development of the greater Bethlehem area with millions of dollars in charitable gifts. [32]


  1. ^ "History". R.K. Laros Foundation Inc. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
  2. ^ December 05, Sara K. Satullo | For lehighvalleylive com | Posted; AM, 2018 at 06:50. "History of an iconic Lehigh Valley silk mill is now coming into focus (PHOTOS)". Retrieved 2019-03-16.
  3. ^ Lafayette, College (1913–1914). Melange. Lafayette. p. 8.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  4. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, The Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. pp. 14–15.
  5. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, The Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. pp. 17–18.
  6. ^ Matsui, Shichoro (1930). The History of the Silk Industry in the United States. New York, NY: Howes. p. 50.
  7. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Company. 1947. p. 6.
  8. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Company. 1947. p. 6.
  9. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, the Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 25.
  10. ^ Laros, Russell K. “St. Luke’s Hospital President’s Report,” in St. Luke’s Hospital Annual Report 1933. Bethlehem, PA: St. Luke’s Hospital, 1933.
  11. ^ Stepenoff, Bonnie (1999). Their Fathers Daughters: Silk Mill Workers in Northeastern Pennsylvania 1880-1960. London, England: Associated University Presses. p. 132.
  12. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Mill. 1947. p. 7.
  13. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Mill. 1947. p. 9.
  14. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Mill. 1947. p. 10.
  15. ^ The Laros Story. Bethlehem, PA: The Laros Silk Mill. 1947. p. 24.
  16. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 62.
  17. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, PA: Moravian College. p. 26.
  18. ^ “Report of the Special Committee for Reorganization of the Bach Choir.” Bethlehem, Pa.: Bach Choir of Bethlehem, 1944. P. 1
  19. ^ "Sunday Call Chronicle". Allentown, PA. December 9, 1951.
  20. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 50.
  21. ^ Swisher, Scott (1975). “The Blood-Service Complex.” An Evolution of the Utilization of Human Blood Resources in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies. p. 29.
  22. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 51.
  23. ^ The Titusville Herald. Titusville, PA. April 29, 1952
  24. ^ Patent for Woven Textile Item and Filament Yarn. R.K. Laros. United States Patent Office, patent number 2,668,564. February 9, 1954
  25. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 53.
  26. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 17.
  27. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. pp. 29–30.
  28. ^ Wikipedia entry, Peter L. Shelton.
  29. ^ Wikipedia entry, Laura Bennett.
  30. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 27.
  31. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 55.
  32. ^ Hachey, Jeremy (2015). RK Laros, Patron of Bethlehem. Moravian College. p. 57.