MEYER WESSEL is a name in Camden long forgotten. A remarkably intelligent and gifted man, he was the first manager of a Public Housing project in Camden, and one of the first in the United States to hold that position. In that capacity he had to create program and policy from scratch and on the fly, while operating within the guidelines of a Federal bureaucracy equally inexperienced in contending with the problems that come with providing public low income housing.

The pressures that came with this position, a position that he was quite dedicated to and intensely proud of, eventually brought this man to a tragic and premature death. Let Meyer Wessel be remembered not for how he died, however. It is the hope of this author and those who have helped to make this website possible that Meyer Wessel be remembered for how he lived.  

MEYER WESSEL was born in 1893 to Abraham and Esther Wessel. The Wessels were one of the very first Jewish families to make their home in Camden. Mr. and Mrs. Wessel first settled in Camden at 531 Mechanic Street after the 1886 birth in Pennsylvania of son Morris. Abraham Wessel  came to Camden from Philadelphia in 1890. After working for ten years in a shoe factory, he bought out the original owners, and did quit well. The Wessel family were among the first residents of the then new Parkside section of Camden. Meyer Wessel was one of the older children, coming before Norman, Jennie, Dorothy, Mamie Sadie, Rose and Harry L. Wessel. At the time of the January 1920 Census the Wessel family owned a home at 1514 Baird Avenue, while son Morris had bought 1504 Wildwood Avenue, where he lived in with his wife and two children. Abraham Wessel passed away in 1924, and was buried in the original Jewish section at New Camden Cemetery.

When the 1930 Census was taken, Meyer Wessel was still residing at 1514 Baird Avenue, with is by then widowed mother Esther. He was the working as a salesman for the family's shoe manufacturing business. Also at home were younger sisters Mae and Shirley, and younger brother Harry. Dorothy Wessel had married prominent Camden physician Dr. Hyman Goldstein

Later in 1930 or in early 1931, Meyer Wessel was selling the then brand-new appliance, the electric refrigerator, from a shop at the Walt Whitman Hotel. Meyer Wessel later married, and by the 1940s made his home with wife Mary at 506 Randolph Street. He was known to his friends, business, and political associates as "Mike" Wessel. Joseph Cooper, the nephew of Hyman and Dorothy Goldstein, shares this memory of Meyer Wessel:

"Mike Wessel ... a very well-met person, pleasing personality,  He was married to Mary, who was not Jewish, which in the period was looked down upon by some people of the Jewish faith. I do know that Mike Wessel about 1930/31 sold the first modern GE refrigerators (with the coil on top) from a store at the Walt Whitman Hotel.  He was a tall and rather large man who was always well dressed."

Meyer Wessel was active politically as a Democrat, and also active in the real estate business, as was his brother Norman. He served a member of the Camden Board of Education as early as 1927. During the mid-1930s, when there was a struggle for control of the Democrat party in Camden County, he aligned himself with Edward J. Kelleher in opposition to the then-current leadership of Emma Hyland and Harry Maloney.

A close friend of George Brunner, who was elected to Camden's City Commission in 1935 and elevated to Mayor in October of 1936, Meyer Wessel was chosen to be the first manager of Westfield Acres, the very first public housing project in Camden, and one of the first in the nation.

Meyer Wessel accomplished much in his tenure at Westfield Acres, developing procedures and policies that caused the Acres to be regarded by those who lived there as a wonderful place well into the 1960s. He worked in concert with Horace R. Dixon, who was Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of Camden in those years. He also developed a highly capable staff, led by his assistant, Mary Ellen Soistman.   

Unfortunately, the pressures that came with his position apparently became too much for him to bear. Meyer Wessel took his own life while at work on February 18, 1943. He was buried the following day at Crescent Burial Park in Pennsauken NJ.

Meyer Wessel was survived by his wife Mary, a daughter, a granddaughter, brothers Norman, Morris, and Harry, and sister Dorothy Wessel Goldstein.

South Jersey, A History 1624-1924

MEYER WESSEL is one of ten children born to Abraham Ernest and Esther Frances Wessel. His father is a native of Russia, though he came to America when young and obtained his education in the United States. In 1890 he came from Philadelphia to Camden to work for Welsh & Kelly, shoe manufacturers, being engaged as an operator of the shoe buttonhole machine. The factory was located at the corner of Front and Federal streets. Ten years later he bought the concern from Welsh & Kelly and moved to Nos. 108-110 Federal Street, into the William S. Scull Building. In another ten years, 1920, he moved again, this time to their present site, Nos. 222-224 Liberty Street, and at this time he introduced the practice of selling direct from producer to consumer, eliminating the jobber and middlemen. Their trade has now extended to every State in the Union.

Meyer Wessel was born in Camden on June 26, 1891, and studied in the Camden public schools. When he left school, he entered his father's factory, starting in the shop and working his way up to partnership in 1913. His brother, Morris B. Wessel, four years his senior, had trodden the same path before him, the two brothers entering the firm at the same time. When their father died in 1924, the firm was incorporated under the same name, A. E. Wessel & Sons, the father, who had founded and given his life to building up the firm, being thus held in remembrance. The officers of the newly-incorporated company are: Morris B. Wessel, president; Norman I. Wessel, vice-president; Meyer Wessel, treasurer; Dorothy Wessell, secretary; and Joseph Varbalow, solicitor. The concern has such solid business principles for its foundation and its offices are so ably manned that the volume of trade is on the constant increase. 

Meyer Wessel has numerous business and fraternal connections. He sits on the board of directors of the Victory Trust Company [Antonio Di Paolo's bank- PMC], Camden; the Diamond Building and Loan Association, the Homebuyers', Interstate, and Householders' Building and Loan associations; he is president of the Janice Corporation, Camden; vice-president of the Hyman Varbalow, Camden Securities, A. E. Wessel, and the Development Building and Loan associations.

His name appears on the list of members of the Camden Chamber of Commerce, the Pennsylvania Retailers' Association, and the Camden City Charities' Association. His church membership is with Beth-El Congregation, and he is president of B'nai B'rith Lodge, of Camden.

Congregation Beth El

William M. Hoffman, Jr.

Ligonier, PA
Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

During the World War he took a very active and helpful part in the Victory and Liberty Loan drives, and also gave his energies to putting over the Camden Community Hotel drive. Fraternally, he belongs to Lodge No. 293, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; to Mizpah Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons; Siloam Chapter, Royal Arch Masons; Excelsior Consistory, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite; and Crescent Temple, Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. It should also be noted that he is a member of the Camden City Board of Education.

His brother, Morris B. Wessel, is also a Mason, holding membership in Mizpah Lodge, the Excelsior Consistory, and Crescent Temple; and he is president of the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Camden. He married Bessie Silver, and their two children are named Bernice and Herbert.

A.E. Wessel & Sons Shoe Factory
222-224 Liberty Street

The Wessel Shoe Factory on Liberty Street was the first building on the south side of Liberty Street. One can determine it is the Liberty Street building from the angular shape of the building, as the property takes on a triangular shape at its south, end, which fronted onto Mechanic Street, due to the angle that Ferry Avenue takes on when it starts. The hairstyles of the female workers also date from the 1920s.  

Click on Images
to Enlarge

Philadelphia Inquirer - February 10, 1914
Harry Greenberg - Milton Manheimer
Max Lewis - Mitchell Blank - Benjamin Natal - Joseph F. Kantor
Max Goldich - Mark Obus - Arnold Weisss - Bertrand Schneeberg Broadway Theatre -
Jacob Weinberg - Meyer Wessel - Jacob Furer

Philadelphia Inquirer
October 16, 1916

Samuel Macklin
Fannie Lashman
Harry Greenberg
Harry Teitelman
Meyer Teitelman
Benjamin Natal
Aaron Levin
J.Z. Blank
Julia Silver
Sue Tubis
Florence Frisch
Jacob Weinberg
Meyer Wessel
Louis Mackler
Mark Obus
Jacob Furer
Bernard Bertman
Sig Schoenagle
Israel Heine

Philadelphia Inquirer - July 4, 1917
Meyer Wessel - Dr. Philip Wenkos - A. Rosenfelt - J. Heines
Abe Fuhrman - Samuel Mackler - Isaac Frisch -
Jack Weinberg
Jacob L. Furer - Arnold Weiss - Harry Greenberg - Mark Obus

Camden Courier-Post - January 9, 1928

Hotel Walt Whitman - Meyer L. Sakin - Lewis Liberman
Max Peck - Rabbi Archie Davidson - 
Rabbi Nachman Arnoff - Congregation Beth El
Dr. David Cooper - Dr. Leopold Goldstein - Herman Odlen 
Fred Siris - Max Liberman - Hyman James - Louis Cades
Nathan Friedenberg - Abraham Fuhrman - Louis Tarter
Bernard Blank - Dr. Samuel Blank - Jacob E. Brown
Dr. Rueben L. Cutler Israel Eisenberg - Dr. Alexander Ellis
Dr. Hyman I. Goldstein - Israel Heine - Emmanuel Kun
Dr. William Laub - Samuel Shane - Jacob Naden
Dr. D.N. Rappaport - Sig Schoenagle - Dr. Isadore Siris
Dr. Samuel Tomkins - Joseph Varbalow
Benjamin Weinberg - Maurice B. Wessel - Ellis Goodman
Camden Lodge 915, Independent Order of B'nai B'rith 

Camden Courier-Post - January 13, 1928

Three appointments to the Camden Board of Education will be made by him late today or tomorrow, Mayor Price said this morning. The appointments were expected to be made yesterday, but they were delayed, the mayor explained, because a “very capable man” declined to accept as one of the appointees. 

The mayor, under the law, has until January 15 to make the appointments, and the new appointees take office a month later. Three vacancies were to be filled by the mayor with the expiration of the terms of George C. Prince, George M. Bryson, and Albert Dudley. The mayor would not say whether or not he would re-appoint any of the three retiring members. Other members of the present board are Edwin I. Seabrook, president; Mrs. Anne D. Spooner, Irving T. Nutt, Meyer Wessel, Dr. Conrad G. Hoell and Dr. Jennie S. Sharp.

Camden Courier-Post - May 4, 1934

Edward J. Kelleher - Bertha Shippen Irving - Emma Hyland - Harry Maloney

Camden Courier-Post
October 29, 1936



Harry Roye - Bartholomew Sheehan - Henry Lodge - George E. Brunner
Labor Temple - Broadway - Division Street - John L. Morrissey
David Baird Jr. - Abe Fuhrman - Oliver Bond - Samuel W. Strauss
Meyer Wessel - E. George Aaron - Sadie Harris


Above: The Acres,
as viewed from Westfield Avenue.

Mary Ellen Soistmann, an "Acres" girl, 
& Meyer Wessel

Right: Mrs. Dora Feldman,
Apartment 29
Gold Star Mother

   Her son, First Lieutenant Jacob Feldman was killed under heroic circumstances. He was attached to Company D, 110th Infantry, 28th Infantry Division during World War I. He was mortally wounded on September 12, 1918, near Marancourt, France.


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JULY 4th, 1941

Above, Left and right: Waiting for the parade to begin on Beideman Avenue. 
The lot behind the crowd in the right-hand picture is the site of the present-day
Westfield Tower Apartment building:

Below Left: Baby Parade on Beideman Avenue;
Below Right: Color Guard advancing up Beideman Avenue

Above left: On parade in front of the acres, from Westfield Avenue & Dudley Street
Above right: Flag raising exercises, from Westfield Avenue & Dudley Street

Below left: View of flagpole from Dudley Street, Westfield Avenue in background.
Below right: View of flagpole from an "Acres" balcony, Westfield Avenue in background

Left: View of the crowd
in front of Building 22
(3159 Westfield Avenue)
during the patriotic exercises.
The speaker was standing
in front of a microphone,
beneath the balcony.

Picture taken from
Westfield and Dudley Avenues

Above Left: The Color Guard
Above Right: Dignitaries for the day's events

Participants in the patriotic program.
Front Row, from left to right:

Meyer Wessel, Westfield Acres Manager
Mrs. George Brunner
Mrs. Mary Ellen Soistmann,
Management Aide
Mayor George E. Bruner
Commissioner Burnell S. Hartman,
Commissioner John W. Diehl, Chairman,
Housing Authority of the City of Camden
Board of Commissioners

Below Left: Patriotic Program as seen from across Westfield Avenue
Below Right: Participants in Flag Raising exercises just before disbanding

Click on Images to Enlarge

Camden Courier-Post

February 18, 1943

Mary Ellen Soistmann - Norman Wessel - Maurice Wessel - James McAndrews - Westfield Acres

Camden Courier-Post - February 18, 1943
Mary Ellen Soistmann - George Brunner - Horace R. Dixon - Miss Scharle -Bartholomew A. Sheehan
Westfield Acres - Arthur Holl Funeral Home - Proncess Avenue - Westfield Avenue - 31st Street
Mizpah Lodge F. & A. M. - Samuel Wiss