A Glass Half Full/A Glass Half Empty
The Feminine Mystique at Fifty


Last fall I got a salad dressing stain on an almost-new Ralph Lauren cotton sweater. It was a cream-colored crew neck with a couple of buttons on the shoulders, and I loved it.  It was perfect with my favorite khaki pants.

I was sure the stain would come out with Shout or whatever pre-laundry treatment I had, but alas, it didn’t.   In retrospect, I should have taken it to the cleaners from the get-go, but I didn’t and the sweater ended up in the Good Will Bag.  I still miss it.

More recently, in a casual conversation with a woman of my generation on our trip to India, I was regretting wearing my white slacks. They looked like they would never be white again.  “Just rub a little Fels Naptha on the spots before you wash them,” she suggested.

Now that’s a name I hadn’t heard in about sixty years.  “Does Fels Naptha still exist?” I asked.  “Of course”, she replied. “I wouldn’t use anything else for stains.”

She was right.  I found Fels Naptha in the laundry aisle at my grocery store.  The wrapper looked exactly as it had when I was a child.  More important, it is a miracle bar.  Stains on my white placemats.  Gone.  Ring around the collar on one of Peter’s shirts.  Gone.  My white pants.  White.

The label calls it a heavy-duty laundry bar soap.  I call it a miracle. 

Just too late for my cream-colored Ralph Lauren sweater.



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My mother used Fels Naptha on my father's shirt collars. She also scrubbed us down with it when we got into poison ivy, but I don't know how effective it was as I was never very sensitive to poison ivy.


As a child in the 60s I was always scrubbed with Fels-Naptha after a hike in poison-oak country. Best soap for getting off all of the resin.

Wyn Achenbaum

And there is another angle to this story. There were at least 2 brothers who inherited the company from their father. One funded the Fels Planetarium, at the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia. The other, Joseph Fels, was a believer in the ideas of Henry George (b. 1839, Philadelphia; d. 1897, NYC, while running for mayor of NYC for the 2nd time), the author of "Progress and Poverty," which is perhaps the most important book yet written on political economy. It was widely read in the last 20 years of the 19th century.

Joseph Fels contributed financially to sharing George's ideas between about 1905 and his death perhaps 10 years later; his widow Mary took up the work after that. They must have been quite a couple.

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