Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Fels & Co., c.1895
73rd Street & Island Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19142

John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

In 1895 Joseph Fels acquired the rights to a new soap-making process that "fixed a naphtha or benzine solvent" into the laundry soap. Fels Naptha became a standard in the laundry room as a reliable and economical cleaning product. The international success of Fels Naptha encouraged Joseph Fels to relocate to Southwest Philadelphia and a larger industrial site. 1
There is little documentation for this large mill complex located on a water-powered mill-seat on Cobbs Creek. Originally the location of the John L. Passmore mill, the Fels Company was a large manufacturer of soap during the early twentieth century.
2 The factory employed as many as 657 workers through the 1930s. 3
The mill complex is currently being demolished/renovated for use as condominiums and warehouses.

1  Dale Phalen, Samuel Fels of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia, 1969), pp. 7-16.
2  Philip Scranton and Walter Licht, Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950 (Philadelphia, 1986), see p. 102 for illustration of the soap manufacturing process at Fels and Company.
3  Pennsylvania State Department of Labor and Industry, Industrial Directories of Pennsylvania: 2nd, 3rd, & 7th, (Harrisburg, 1916, 1919, and 1931).

Update May 2007 (by Joel Spivak):
Demolished. A BP gas station and an Advanced Auto Parts store were built on this site.