This is an interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. I am Renee
Levine and I am interviewing Mr. Samuel M. Melton. The date is October 1, 1986,
the place Columbus, Ohio.
Melton: Maybe I better start with…
Interviewer: When did you first come to the United States. How old were you
when you came?
Melton: I first came to the United States in 1904, the early part of the
year. I remember when we left the city in Germany to board the ship. We first
got on a transport to take us to the Deutschland, was the name of the ship. I
remember my mother told me the name of the ship being Deutschland. And we were
of course in the bottom part of the ship where all the other refugees or
whatever they were, at that time. They were people anxious to leave the area
because of the hardships that they endured. My father already was in the United
I remember one thing that happened on the transport to the ship. My mama
purchased a new cap for me and it blew off of my head and I started crying and
she tried to console me and a fellow that was standing next to us said,
“Jump in the water and you’ll get the cap back.” I remember that.
And my mother of course held me; I didn’t jump in the water. That’s the only
thing I remember from Europe. And the other thing I remember is when we arrived
in Toledo. I don’t remember anything about the entrance in the New York area.
But I remember arrival in Toledo and we were on a carriage after we left the
train and the carriage took us to the Fisher’s home, which was a cousin, and
that’s where we stayed that night. It was raining very heavily and as we
arrived at the house a dog by the name of Shep was yelping and I was scared. But
finally we got into the house and I remember they came out with umbrellas. And
that’s all I remember about the trip from Europe.
Interviewer: Where did you live in Europe and when were you born?
Melton: I was born March, 1900, and we lived in a community which was
approximately ten-twelve houses called Porubka, P-O-R-U-B-K-A. That’s as close
as I can come to the actual name. And that was close to the Polish border. And I
don’t remember anything about that, but I did see it in 1938. We visited there
on my honeymoon when I married Esther Cobey. Tell you that?
Interviewer: Why did your father precede you to the United States?
Melton: My father left Europe in order to avoid the army. In those days he
was kosher and in the army, they did not have kosher food. And that was one of
the things. The other thing, he didn’t…they…Jewish people did not want to
serve in the army particularly for that reason.
And that was one of the reasons
I know that he left, and the other reason of course was economics. Where he
lived was very poor and to raise a family, he wanted to raise it in the United
States. So he left somewhere in 1901, in that area. And my mother and I came to
the country about l9…about three years later.
Interviewer: Who were some of the other families that lived in your European
village that came to Columbus, that arrived here eventually?
Melton: Later on my mother’s nephew, Jack Gutter was a, oh just a minute. I’m
ahead of myself. He came in ’25. I better go back. You cut it off, could you?
I’m ready to go again. The first person that came to visit us in Toledo, I
didn’t tell you anything about Toledo. I didn’t tell you.
Interviewer: We’ll get to that.
Melton: All right. The first person that came to our home in Toledo was Abe
Mendlowitz, our father’s brother. I must have been about six years old at that
time. And he slept with me and stayed with us for about three years. And after
him came, after that Herman Ritter, a nephew of my mother’s came, and he slept
By that time Abe Mendlowitz had gone to Columbus. And after, he stayed
at our house for a year or two. The next person that came was another nephew of
my mother’s and his name was Louis Markowitz, who came from the same
neighborhood that Ritter came from and my mother came from. And after him,
another person that came was my father’s brother Sam Mendlowitz. So I had four
sleeping partners during the period up to about the age of 11 or 12 years old.
Okay? That’s enough.
Interviewer: Where did you go to school first?
Melton: My first school was…and only school in Toledo was, not only school.
My first elementary school was Spring Street School which is the street that I
lived on. It was on Spring Street and Stickney Avenue which was a block away
from our house. And the first year I was there the teachers tried to get me to
say “the” and she stuck her tongue out at me and I came home crying.
My mother was very upset because I told her what that meant to me and then we
went to the school with my mother and she couldn’t speak English. But finally
they made her under- stand that what she, the teacher, was trying to do was
stick her tongue out to make me pronounce the word “the.” So that
I remember that. And I remember being kept in school two years in
the first grade. I guess I was two years in the kindergarten and two years in
the first grade. Before I finished school I was 15 years old. Then I entered
Scott High School in Toledo which had just been finished in 1915. And I finished
there in four years and graduated in 1919. And I enjoyed high school because I
played baseball there and I ran on the track team and I enjoyed the physical end
more than I did the educational end. Might as well say that. During that period
while I was in high school and prior to that, I worked with my father on the
huckster wagon from the time I was, about maybe seven or eight years old, until
we finished high school. And during that period, I learned about vegetables and
fruits and a little bit about business.
And while I was in high school, I also
worked afternoon in Tipkey Brothers which was a large grocery store and fruits
and vegetables and also a large fish department and meat department. And they
had a big organ in the center of the building and it was a large, it was really
a market. In those days there was no such store in the City of Toledo, nor was
there any other store like it. Except I understand a place in Boston was similar
to that. I learned a lot in that Tipkey Brothers experience.
In addition to
that, I also worked in shoe stores after school when I didn’t work at Tipkey
Brothers. So I learned something about shoes and premiums; premiums is when you
received 25 cents or so on a pair of shoes. And of course that was where I was
able to make a few extra pennies because 25 cents in those days was a lot of
money. All right.
When we first arrived I said we were at the Fisher home. Well the Fishers had
four daughters at that time and of course the house was a small house and we
couldn’t stay there so a new section was being developed about four blocks
from Mrs. Fisher’s home. She lived on Moore Street and we went (phone rings)
and this new project was on Spring Street where something like a half a dozen
homes were being put up. And they were small two-bedroom houses that were
available for $800. And Mrs. Fisher loaned my father $10 so that he could put
that, pay for the down, made the down payment for the house and from that time
on, we paid $10 a month until it was paid off.
But of course we had a mud road
in front, we had a cistern that drained the roof and which was used for washing
clothes and such as that and we had a well that was about eight feet deep. And
it was a hole dug in the ground that was around approximately four foot in
diameter with bricks all around and the water was like a spring coming out of
the ground and we pumped the water and it was very good drinking water and we
used that for drinking and cooking and we didn’t have to boil that water
because it was clean. I remember that.
And then along came pavement. They paved the road in front of our home and
put sidewalks down and we had water brought to the house and sewer brought to
the area. And pretty soon we had a fairly decent home and more or less modern. I
think that’s enough.
We had a two-holer outhouse which was in the back of the lot and that was
removed to another area when they brought the sewer system in and then we had
good drainage. We didn’t have the problem of cleaning out the outhouse every
year because the sewer that was constructed took care of the elimination of the
sewage. And at that time my father built a barn which was much larger than our
And we had a big attic where he stored hay for the season. We also had a
cow and then we, from which my mother was able to obtain milk. After the cow had
its calf, we sold the cow and kept the calf for some time and then I think they
slaughtered the calf for the meat or whatever. I don’t remember what happened
after that. I was still, I imagine I was about six years old by that time. I
remember all that. Now that’s enough there.
While in elementary school, I played sandlot all with other kids and it was
not organized. It was like pickup teams. And we had family by the name of
Schwartz, Fingerhut, Letterman and Benis. That’s Joe Benis was the younger
brother. Ben was a brother my age and he and I used to play football, baseball
and such as that. And Joe Benis who was about nine years younger, was bat boy.
Okay. That’s enough for that. And I, okay.
I also had a lot of friends in that group that I mentioned before. One was
named Sam Katz and this Sam Katz later years came to Columbus looking for a job
and I hired him at Capitol Manufacturing about many, many years later. But Sam
Katz was also one of our ball players and our intimate friends in Toledo and
went to school with us in the same grade. The Fingerhut boys, one was a little
older than me and the other was about the same age as mine and they were also in
the neighborhood but they lived on another street.
This is the group that I grew
up with and we used to go to a small pond where we were able to skate and play
what you call hockey today but in our day it was called Shinny which was with a
tin can. We learned how to skate and hit each other with a branch of a tree
which we used as, what do they call those?
Interviewer: Hockey stick?
Melton: Hockey stick. We used that as a hockey stick and that’s the reason
it was called Shinny because most of the time you hit the shins with, instead of
the hockey, instead of the tin can. That impressed a lot of marks on my legs
today that was caused by the…We had a lot of fun in those days, I’ll
tell you that. We were poor. We were very poor, but we always had enough to eat.
Did I say that?
Interviewer: After you graduated from high school then you said you came to
Columbus. Is that correct?
Melton: Before that we should tell stories about my home life and…am I on?
Melton: As I said before, we had enough to eat because my father went to the
country in the winter to peddle scrap iron. And he had a little yard in a place
called Continental, Ohio. And every weekend he came home with a coop of chickens
or geese, a crate of eggs and butter. Those are the items that he brought back
every Friday when he came home. And my mother would sell the butter for eight
cents a pound or ten cents a pound and the eggs for maybe two or three cents
profit per dozen.
And what my father was disturbed about was that she gave too
much of it away. In other words, the neighbors of ours were even poorer than we
were. We had enough to eat. But in the Summertime when we had fruits and
vegetables, what was not sold during the day and would not keep over for the
next day was also distributed to the families in the neighborhood. I want to
bring out about the home life of my mother and my father. My father was more
economical-minded than my mother. My mother was always more charitable and I was
always impressed with that.
Interviewer: Did you belong to a shul?
Melton: That’s another thing. We had a little shul next door to our
house. It was built probably about 1908-09, somewhere in that, and it was not
really a shul. It was a house that was built and they converted it to a shul.
And the families in the neighborhood, probably 30 or 40 families, would gather
on the High Holidays and we would have a shochet for a rabbi. The shochet
came around once a week and he would teach me the Hebrew so that I could become Bar
Mitzvah. And he knew how to daven but he did not know how to explain
any of the stories that I later heard and he was very difficult to understand.
He had a very heavy brogue. And he used to sit next to me and pulled the lobe of
my ear whenever I made a mistake. And I think I have one lobe a little longer
than the other one because of him. I finally was Bar Mitzvah in 1913 and
I remember my mother had a big table loaded with food and the entire
congregation next door came over to our house. I can tell you how crowded it was
because I don’t remember whether they had 20 or 15 people. And our room was
probably about 12X15′. So it wouldn’t hold too many people. And the tables
she put together were the kitchen table and our dining room table. And all those
people were sitting there crowding together.
And I remember that I got a
fountain pen and it was a Conklin fountain pen, a beautiful red pen that that
time with a gold pen point which was very, very expensive. I think it cost
around three-four dollars. And that Conklin pen was an interesting company
because the man who owned it, his name was Conklin and he put up the Toledo
Newsboy Building with a swimming pool and a small piece of ground where we used
to play softball. And I enjoyed playing on his property and the Toledo Newsboys
Association gave that a lot of credit for bringing up some very good young
people because of the Toledo Newsboys building, which had the facility of a
swimming pool and a ball ground. That’s also important. Okay.
My Bar Mitzvah, I had to memorize a paragraph that was a Bar
Mitzvah story. And it came in a little booklet. There were a number of those
stories and I picked the shortest one I could find and that’s the one I used
and I don’t know what it is anymore. And I don’t think I remember any part
of it or what it meant. That’s the kind of Bar Mitzvah training we had
in those days. All you had to do was learn how to say your Maftir and I
sang. The singsonging that I did was not according to, what do you call those?
Melton: Tropes. We didn’t have tropes in those days because the shochet didn’t
know the tropes himself. So he just sang it in a crude way and that’s how I
did my Bar Mitzvah Maftir. That’s enough for that.
1915 through 1919, I had the pleasure of playing on the baseball team in
1919, the last year. Since I could not take time off to play baseball during my
other years, but I convinced my father that I should take off a couple Saturdays
because I was working with him on a wagon and he couldn’t spare me. So I
waited till my last year and I was good enough to make the team the last year
and I only played with them a couple times because I had to work on Saturdays.
So the two times I played with them they lost. That’s all I remember about
And the track team, that was something. I was on the track team for the last
year also because I couldn’t take time off. So I was fast and without any
training I was able to run the 100-yard dash in 10 3/5 which was fairly good in
those days. But we had a man on the team that made it in 9 3/5 and he was top
man and became a star at the University of Ohio State, he became a star at the
Ohio State University. He was Louie Moorehead. During his years he was the
fastest man in the country next to a man in Michigan, who was able to beat him
on occasions and he used to beat the Michigan man also on occasions. The two men
were the two best in the United States and he was on the same team that I was in
1915 in Toledo. But when he came to Columbus I was not, I could not take the
time off because I was working in the grocery store then and Saturday was the
most important day of the week. So I did not have the time to play any baseball
or track. But I did go out in the intramurals one time which was during the
week. I was supposed to run the quarter mile and I ran about 300 yards and my
leg, the calves in my legs became cramped and I had to quit. So I couldn’t
finish the race. And in, oh, I better talk about the Toledo race.
While I was on a track team in Toledo, in one of the races I was supposed to
be in the hundred-yard-dash. They had one man missing in the 440 yard run. This
was a mile relay and one of the men in the 440 yard race was supposed to, whose
name was, he was a Jewish boy. I can’t think of the name, was sick that day.
So the coach decided that I should run that race and I had never ran 440 yards
before. So I ran about 300 yards and both of my feet — arches broke and I fell
on my face. And I had cinders on my hand and cinders on my forehead where I
fell. And I lost the race because I fell. And the coach was mad and he wouldn’t
talk to me. I was hurt but he didn’t pay any attention. So from that time on I
figured that all the coach is interested in is winning, doesn’t care about the
kids in that high school. And that’s my opinion of high school coaches and I
think that’s right. So that was my experience as far as running for a high
school. But I didn’t run for the university nor did I play ball for the
university but I wanted to test myself in this intramural races. So I entered.
And I came out first in the dashes and I came out, that was 40 yards and I was
third in the high jump. And then I finished, as I said before, running 440
yards, I finished with cramps in both legs and couldn’t finish the 440. That
was my experience with the athletics in high school and in college.
But when I was a kid, one of my ambitions was to be a baseball player. But my
mother said, “No, you go to high school and then maybe you’ll go to
college and you will have a job sitting at a desk just like other people
have.” So that was her ambition for me. Well that just gives you an idea of
what European mothers wanted their children to attain.
‘Cause we used to come to Columbus many times. Should we go about that?
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Melton: I remember that we used to drive to Columbus. Even before we drove to
Columbus, that was already later, we used to come in on a train. We had
excursions in those days which cost a dollar per person, to Columbus and back to
Toledo, round trip ticket. And children were 50 cents round trip ticket. And
this must have been around 1910-11 because I remember we came to Columbus for
Morris Polster’s wedding which was held at the Agudas Achim. That was before
the Tifereth Israel was built on Parsons Avenue, so they held it there. And my
sister who was, well they had left it was, my sister was about five years old at
that time, got lost somewhere and they finally found her. I think they picked
her up at the police station. That was an outstanding event for the Morris
Polster’s wedding. And I remember the affair was very impressive when they
stood up at the altar and were married. Then after that in 1916, my father
bought a Ford Touring Car for which he paid $368 and that touring car took us to
and back to Columbus, to Columbus and back to Toledo, on several occasions
between ’16 and ’19. And we visited the Polsters and the Schlesingers and
the Wasserstroms in those days. They were the relatives of my father and my
mother. That brings a connection between the family, I guess, then.
Now what else is there? He was successful in his fruit and vegetable business
and later on he was able to buy a truck which was what he used to peddle the
scrap in the country in Continental, Ohio. And so during the period of 1916 and
1919 he was progressively more secure economically. And my Uncle Abe called my
father one day in 1919 and told him that there was a grocery store available on
High Street in Columbus and it could be purchased very reasonably because the
owner had two stores and he was getting old and wanted to relieve himself of the
extensive amount of work that he had to take care of the two stores. So my
father came up to Columbus and decided to go in business with my Uncle Abe and
they started the Mendlowitz Brother’s Grocery Store on Second Avenue and High
Street. That’s when we moved to Columbus. That Summer, my father and my mother
and Myrtle and I got in the truck and got into the touring car, moved our
furniture from Toledo and moved our belongings to Columbus by truck and car.
1919, Summer. And my f ather sold the house in Toledo and he had another piece
of property on Noble Street which was also sold and that’s the money that he
used to purchase his share of the grocery store. Okay. The first place we moved
to was a double on Donaldson Street which was next to the Beth Jacob
Congregation. We lived there one year and then my father bought a double on
Livingston Avenue between Twenty Second and Ohio. That year, 1919, I entered
Ohio State University although I had applied at the University of Michigan
because out of Toledo, I would have gone to the University of Michigan and would
have been able to work my way through school over there by helping at the Union,
as a waiter. Okay.
We are at the grocery store now and the University now. This is important
now. The grocery store, we on now? The grocery store brought back my experience that I had at Titke Brothers and the same experience that my Uncle Abe had
since he worked at Titke Brothers also. It was all new to my father though as
far as groceries were concerned, but one thing that my father was able to do was
to make a market out of that grocery store because he knew fruits and
vegetables. So this was really the first market in the City of Columbus because
there was no such market with meats, groceries and fruits and vegetables. Columbus had a very nice market on Fourth Street at that time and most people would
go to the market to pick up their fruits and vegetables. And this store which
was on High Street in a very good location gave the people in the neighborhood
an opportunity to buy fruits and vegetables in their nearby grocery store which
made it convenient for them since they didn’t have to go all the way down to
the marketplace on Fourth Street. So it became a very good program economically.
And my father and my uncle were working 12 to 14 hours a day in that store. My
father would go down to the Farmer’s Market and to the wholesale people and
pick up the fruits and vegetables each morning, which meant that he had to get
up around 4:00 and he would work until the store closed around 6:30-7:00 every
night. Including Saturday, at which time they stayed open until about 8:00. So
he put in a lot of hours in order to be successful. I went to Ohio State at that
time and worked in the store after school. I would have classes until about 1:00
on some days and other days I would be in school till about 3:00. So I had a few
hours every afternoon that I could spend at the store. I enjoyed the work there
and was helpful and received enough money to see me through school during the
four years that I was at Ohio State.
But one thing that I did for the store was contact sororities and
fraternities. And I was able to build up quite a sizable business for my father
and my uncle. And they had to buy a truck for delivery and pretty soon they had
two trucks delivering because the business on the campus grew to a sizable
extent. And they had to expand their store after about two years and double
their size. The third year they bought a place on Miller and Oak, which store I
started that summer that I was a junior. And I operated that store during the
Summer and went back to school in the Fall. And the store was operated by father
and my uncle with people who they hired except that I had an uncle whose name
was similar to mine, Sam Mendlowitz, who worked there for a period also. Shouldn’t
talk about him. That was not Sam Mendlowitz behind that counter. That was not
him. Oh yes it was, yes it was, it was him. He was not in jail yet, he was not
in jail, he was not in the, this was before he went to prison. This was before
he went to prison. He went to prison while I was in college so he was hired
before he went to prison. He, this is not on, is it?
Interviewer: It’s on now.
Melton: You mean while I was talking about…
Melton: I’m back at Ohio State after I opened up the store on Miller and
Oak and the store was going and he was in there. And then I went back to school
and I was in Accounting as my major because I was advised not to take
Engineering due to the fact that I was a Jew and that after graduation a Jew in
Engineering didn’t have an opportunity to get a position with any organization
of any size. So I majored in Accounting and graduated is what they called at
that time Commerce and Journalism. My experience at the University was a low
average. I did not study too much because much of my time was spent working and
most of the material that I was able to understand and digest I accumulated
through lecture periods and discussion periods. So I am not proud of my
classroom achievement. But I did graduate in 1923 in September class. I had to
make up some points. In those days they had a point system and I had to make up
a few points and I took one subject during the period of June to September and
that gave me my graduating certificate.
After school I was working with my father and my uncle and we were planning a
grocery store somewhat on the order of Titke Brothers across the street from
Lazarus, which was at that time a vacant building that was used by the Baldwin
Piano Company. Later on that store became (take it off) became More- house
Martins. It was a large store and it would have been adaptable for what we had
in mind. And we had the experience and we were pretty certain that we could make
a success of it. However my mother’s uncle just arrived in Cleveland from
Europe and his name was Freedman. And his son was Jack Freedman who was a
successful steel operator in Cleveland and who did not have a kosher home. And
the father of course, being kosher, couldn’t stay with him. So temporarily he
thought he would like to stay with his niece, my mother. So Jack brought him to
our house on Livingston Avenue and he was going to stay with us for a period.
And we had enough space I guess to take care of him for a temporary period. So
Jack started talking to me about his business and he said that he didn’t have
a college graduate in his organization and that he would like to give me an
opportunity in his office as a bookkeeper. But I told him that we had this
plan and we were going to, we were getting serious about opening up that store
downtown which would require my help also. So he said, “Look you’re just
out of school. Suppose you come with me for a year and see how you like it.
Maybe you’ll like it. If not you can always go back to this. The store won’t
run away.” So I listened to him and I finally went to Cleveland. That’s
when I learned something about the steel business. You want to quit there?
Interviewer: No you go ahead.
Melton: Well so we gave up the idea on the downtown store because I went to
Cleveland and they figured that since I’m going to Cleveland, that they had to
drop the matter. My father and uncle gave up on the store. And while I was up in
Clev- land I noticed an item that was very unusual. Since I was taking care of
the records I found out that this item, which was a salvageable product called
pipe couplings, was very, very profitable. And I brought this to the attention
of Jack Freedman who was the owner of the Builder’s Structural Steel Company.
And he said to me, “Look Sam, this is only a temporary thing and we only do
this during the Christmas season. This is when the plumbers are not busy and
they like to get rid of their surplus material and pipe couplings is one of
their items because they take the blue couplings off of the pipe. Because they
cut their pipe and then they put on pipe fittings of different nature like Ts
and elbows. And they don’t use couplings very often.” So I said,
“Look these people that buy these couplings, they can’t get enough of
them you told me. That’s the reason they’re buying the couplings from you or
anything you pick up. So if that’s the case, there must be other areas besides
the area that you have been working. You’ve been only working eastern
Pennsylvania and some part of New York state.” And he said, “Look, if
you think it’s such a good thing, why don’t you go out and buy ’em and
ship ’em in to me and I’ll take, I’ll pay you so much.” I said,
“That’s okay, I’ll go ahead.” So that’s how I started out. I
left Cleveland and came to Columbus, picked up $300 from my father and started
buying couplings. And I bought couplings in Chicago and shipped them to
Cleveland. And then I went to Milwaukee and I shipped then to Cleveland. And I
shipped a lot of couplings in about two weeks. I kept on getting more money
because he paid me. So I got down to St. Louis and I got a telegram from Jack
saying, “Sam don’t ship any more couplings. I can’t use them.” So
what I had bought in St. Louis I shipped to Columbus and my father picked them
up at the railroad freight house, and stored them in our garage at Livingston
Avenue. When I came back from St. Louis I had to find people that would buy
couplings. So I discovered that the reason why he couldn’t sell the couplings
anymore was because they had chain specifications. And I had couplings on my
hand and I decided that I’ll have to find out what those specifications are so
that’s what I did. And I discovered that all you had to do was retap those
couplings and make them to the specs that they required. And all I had to do
then was to find people that would be able to make the taps to retap these
couplings and had to buy a piece of equipment so that I could do the job. And I
discovered that they had extra tappers at the Columbus Bolt Company. I went to
Detroit where there were highly-skilled people in the tool business and found an
individual who had just come from Sweden and opened up a small plant making pipe
taps and that’s exactly what I needed. And I worked with him and he started
making taps for me. And I converted an old nut-tapping machine that I bought for
$300 from the Columbus Bolt Company. And I built a small plant 30X80′ and
started manufacturing both couplings and pipe nipples, remanufacturing pipe
couplings and pipe nipples. That’s how I started my Capitol Manufacturing
Company. The nipple business…Shall we stop there?
While I was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, one day I called on a pipe nipple
manufacturing company where I bought pipe couplings which were actually surplus
for this pipe nipple manufacturer because he only sold pipe nipples. And while I
was talking to him, I asked him whether he would be interested in selling me
some equipment. And he said, “Yes,” because business was slowing up
and he was getting older and he didn’t need the money any more. And he was
going to gradually leave the business to someone else or sell it. So I made this
arrangement with him that I would buy two of his machines and he would let me
have one of his experienced operators and maintenance men that would take care
of the machines and operate the machines, which he agreed to. So I moved the
machines to Columbus and that’s how we started the pipe nipple business. Now I
had couplings, manufacturing couplings, and making pipe nipples. And of course
the business grew and soon I could not get enough pipe couplings by picking up
salvage and I had to start thinking manufacturing new couplings from tubing. And
I was able to contact one of the large tubing manufacturers and initiate a
purchase agreement with them to furnish the material that we needed for the
manufactured pipe couplings. That’s enough.
The factory building was located at Stone and Wager Street. And I hired a
concrete block layer and I purchased the concrete block and the same man also
was the cement man who laid the floor. And I hired a carpenter to take care of
the roof and the partitioning of the office and, of course, a plumber to take
care of the plumbing necessary. And I put in a small boiler, hot water boiler,
to take care of the heating. And I had a small stove, open pot stove in the
office. Actually I was able to have a ladies and men’s room. The ladies room
was in the office and the men’s room was in the factory. That was my 30X80′
factory building that I originally put up for a cost of a dollar per square
foot, in 1925. That factory building was expanded in 1926 and then again in
1927, it was again doubled. And in 1929 I purchased a small factory in Detroit
and expanded there because my business was very heavy in Detroit as compared to
the Columbus area. During the period things were prosperous throughout the
country but 1929 after we established our plant in Detroit, we had the
beginning of the Depression in October. the plant in Detroit was a problem
because I had to take care of a half a dozen employees and we did not have
sufficient work to keep them. So I was able to get by through ’33 without too
much problem. After that things kind of began rolling again and that was not the
headache that I had during ’30. ’31 and ’32.
However I expanded the
operation in Detroit by putting up an addition to the office and then something
happened that gave me an opportunity to get into the machinery business. A large
factory that manufactured, this factory manufactured fasteners for the
automotive trade. And they had 368 automatic screw machines that were older
machines and due to the fact that the later machines were much more efficient,
these people had to sell out eventually and the equipment was available and I
walked into this plant and spoke to the head, the president of the company. And
he advised me that he would be willing to sell the equipment and would give me
90 days to dispose of it without paying any rent. I looked over all of the
equipment and the parts and I saw millions of dollars worth of machinery. But of
course it was all old and was not as efficient as the equipment that was
available. And most of it would have to be scrapped. However I thought that some
of it could be sold as per unit as it stood in the factory. I made a deal with
him on the basis, my basis was eight dollars per ton which was the price of
scrap iron at that time. And to my surprise, he accepted my offer. So I
purchased the whole factory for a small sum of money and I started selling
machinery using the same people that he had in the factory and gave them a
commission. And we shipped some of those pieces of machinery all over the
country because I brought the price down to $300 per automatic screw machine.
And after selling some of the machines, the 90 days was up and I had to move
them all. So I called a scrap man and got my eight dollars a ton out of the
balance. And I kept a dozen of those machines and put them in my yard at Detroit
and brought three of them to Columbus, which was the first automatic screw
machines that I got involved with in Columbus. That was 1934 and it was a good
deal. It was on a personal basis, it had nothing to do with the operation in
Columbus. That’s when I learned something about operating screw machines.
On one of my trips selling pipe nipples to the railroads such as New York
Central, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, I dropped on in Schenectady, New York, and
ran into the General Electric Company where the purchasing agent told me that
they were having trouble with the manufacturer of a part for their Dynamic
Speaker 106 which was the beginning of radio speakers. Remember the horn? And I
proposed a project for them which they accepted. And I came back to Columbus and
went to the Brightman Manufacturing Company who had automatic screw machines of
a size that was capable of taking care of the item that I had sold to General
Electric. I also was able to buy a pipe machine that was capable of doing this
job and I got orders for thousands of these tubes cut to size with a special
facing that made it possible for them to use as a contact for their electrical
installation. This job wound up as a major project which lasted between ’31
and ’33. It was hundreds of thousands of tubes that was used by RCA, but
General Electric and Westinghouse had control of RCA at that time on the basis
of 60% for General Electric and 40% for Westinghouse. So the material that we
shipped went to both Westinghouse and General Electric, even in Canada. And the
people in Columbus during that period, which was really the Depression period,
couldn’t understand how I could keep this plant busy including the Brightman
Company which was practically bankrupt. And suddenly it died out because the
government forced General Electric and Westinghouse to give up their shares
because it was against control, what do you call it, restraint of trade. The
government forced both General Electric and Westinghouse to eliminate their
holdings in RCA because of restraint of trade. Then RCA came up with a new
patented item which eliminated the tube that we were manufacturing and that was
the end of that project.
On one of my trips from Columbus to Cleveland, and after Cleveland I was on
my way to Youngstown and Sharon, Pennsylvania, and on to Pittsburgh. And I had
an appointment in Pittsburgh the following day for lunch with one of the tube
manufacturers. And I got a telephone call from my office in Detroit that
Montreal wanted to talk to me. That was the Canadian Tube Company in Canada,
with whom I had conversation previously about a lot of seconds in pipe that they
had the year previous, and which we did not get together on, but this time they
wanted to talk to me again about seconds. And here I was in Pittsburgh and it
was noon and they wanted me, this was a Friday and they had to make the deal
Saturday if we were going to make a deal because they had a load shipped Sunday
and it had to leave Monday in order to go through the canals from Montreal to
the Great Lakes for Detroit. So I had to get to Montreal and this was 12:00 noon
in Pittsburgh. So I had to pick up a go-between man who was near Toronto and
then go on to Montreal. This was all done through a heavy rain storm. I drove
close to a thousand miles. I was up from 12:00 till the following morning at
5:00 when we arrived in Montreal. And I went to bed and had to be up at 8:00 in
order to meet these people, which was accomplished and the deal was made. And we
loaded over 250 tons of pipe which was a lot of pipe at that time. The following
day, I’m talking about Saturday morning 8:00 after riding, driving a car a
thousand miles from Pittsburgh to Montreal. That pipe arrived in Detroit and it
was used for fencing and such as that because it was seconds. But I bought it at
a price of about one third of the average cost of pipe at that time because they
had to get rid of it. They made the deal on that basis. And it was one of the
good deals during my career at that time.
A lot of things happened during that period because there were auctions all
over the United States. And I was buying machinery and selling machinery during
that period. And because of my travels, I knew people who could use equipment
and type of equipment they could use. In addition to selling pipe nipples and
pipe couplings, I was able to also get involved in buying and selling machinery
during this period. That lasted all the way up to about 1940 because the people
were getting involved into war materials for European consumption. And a lot of
the machinery that was old and would have not been used normally was put into
operation because of the necessity for war materials. And that also was true of
the dozen machines that I had stored in the yard in Detroit. These automatic
machines that I had there brought a higher price for me than I paid for the
whole 368 machines which I bought in ’33 or ’34, I don’t remember. Anyway
it was a great period to buy and sell equipment.
Okay. As I pointed out, we kept on improving and prospering gradually and I
was looking for additional space. At that time I purchased the Buckeye Wire and
Iron Building on Stone Street. And we outgrew that and I needed more space. And
a furniture place was available on account of bankruptcy on Fulton Street, which
was brought to my attention and which I purchased for $14,000. And it had a lot
of space that was not usable and I was able to . . . . I couldn’t think of it.
All right, I had to demolish several hundred thousand feet of multi-story
buildings in order to make use of the land for our operation. I remodeled one of
the buildings and put up an addition which was able to take care of the moving
of my plant at Stone and Wager Street, which was the first move. And later
another building was put up on that land which took care of the building that I
had on Stone, which was the Buckeye Wire and Iron building.
When I moved to 153 West Fulton Street, we had plenty of office space and we
now had a sufficient area that was reconstructed to take care of the forge
plant, the nipple plant and the coupling plant which was now all put together.
This happened during the period of 1935, ’36 and ’37. And in ’38 we began
thinking in terms of some war work for the, we had to start thinking in terms of
war pro- duction for the military which was to prepare for the coming European
Second World War. I was familiar with the equipment as I indicated previously
and some of the items that were presented to us required special equipment and
this is equipment that I was looking for and finally was able to purchase based
upon promises that we would receive orders for such items. This continued into
1940 when things actually happened and we started production for the . . . .
Interviewer: This is Tape 2 of an interview with Sam Melton. On the last tape
we talked about your, ended with your business. Let’s go back to your personal
life and how you met Esther Cobey. Would you like to start on that?
Melton: I had just given a contract to Leo Yassenoff to construct a factory
building on Fulton Street, a property which I had just purchased so we could
expand. Since our business was growing at a rapid rate we needed more space. And
I bought the E. M. Holtzman plant which was a furniture factory, through Ben
Levison, who made the purchase because it was a bankrupt situation and he
offered it to me at a very attractive price. The building that I had Leo
Yassenoff construct for me was the first addition to the four-story office
building that still stands. Leo Yassenoff approached me and said that he was
constructing a new factory building for a family in Galion, Ohio, whose name was
Cobey. And that he met the family and thought highly of them and particularly
the daughter, Esther, who he thought would be a good companion for me. And after
speaking to me about Esther Cobey several times, I decided to go to Galion to
meet her. I called up and made an appointment and drove up to their country home
in Galion which was about five miles outside of the city where the Cobey family
had a farm as well as, you might call it a country estate. It was very
impressive. And I was impressed with the family as well as with Esther. At that
time I used to travel quite a bit. And it was maybe a month after that before I
was able to get in touch with Esther again. The second time I met with her we
had dinner with the family and spent an afternoon and I suggested that it would
be nice if she cared to accompany me to the club, a golf club which I belonged
to in Detroit. (Whisper – What’s the name of the club?) Okay. The club was the
Franklin Hills Country Club and I had joined the place through my contacts in
Detroit where I had a factory. This proposition that I suggested was readily
agreed to because we had my brother-in-law and my sister accompany us as…
Interviewer: What year was this?
Melton: 1937, 1937. And we went there over a weekend and we enjoyed the
hospitality of the club and I played golf with Herman and my sister Myrtle and
Esther had an opportunity to get acquainted. After that trip on the way back
from Detroit I proposed to Esther and of course she accepted. And it was the
Fall of 1937 and we made arrangements for the wedding in February of 1938, which
my sister Myrtle was a prime mover. She covered all of the necessary detail and
we were married at the old Neil House with the family from Columbus and
Cleveland and different relatives from New York. And I think we must have had
approximately 150 people at that wedding. My father was still living and he of
course gave me away or whatever that is called. After that wedding we took a
trip. I scheduled a trip from New York through the Caribbean to what was then
Palestine and Egypt. And on our way back we stopped in Italy, went though all of
Italy, and went up to Austria and into Czechoslovakia. But before I go into
detail about that, I think I shall discuss part of the trip.
As we left New York, it was a beautiful boat called the Countess Savoya which
was the companion boat to the Rex, all right, which were the popular cruise
ships of the time. And we enjoyed our trip to the Caribbean and stopped at Genoa
for supplies and then went on to Haifa in Palestine. We left the ship at Haifa
and then toured what was then Palestine. Haifa was a beautiful city and was
mostly inhabited by Arabs. There were some Jews but not too many. And we left
for Tel Aviv where I met only Jewish people that lived there.
Interviewer: How did you travel from Haifa to Tel Aviv?
Melton: Car, we traveled by car. In Israel, in Palestine we used only
automobile for travel. We stayed in Tel Aviv for three days or thereabouts. And
it was a small hotel, probably 15 or so rooms, on the shore of the
Mediterranean. And I was very impressed with Tel Aviv because the people in that
city were practically 100% Jewish. I also noticed that they had no industry
outside of one garment factory. So I had spoken to Esther and told her that one
of these days I hope to bring a small factory to Israel which would manufacture
pipe fittings such as we do in Columbus. That was not to be realized for several
years because in ’38 the sounds of war were beginning which we discovered when
we returned to Europe.
After our visit in Tel Aviv we drove to Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem the city
was mostly, the new city was mostly Jewish. However when we went into the old
city we ran into a lot of Arabs, Christians, and there was a Jewish settlement
there that had been there for centuries. And we visited the church called the
Holy Sepulcher and was very impressed because monks were constantly lighting
candles for people who were visiting. And they also pointed to the spot where
they thought that Jesus was buried. Both Esther and I were impressed with the
old setting of the Jewish settlement with their synagogues. And in one case, we
went into the old and the largest synagogue where I used my…
Interviewer: Movie camera?
Melton: and took pictures of the inside showing the windows that went all the
way around the top of the synagogue, the interior top of the synagogue. When I
showed those movies in later years, that building was destroyed and Dr. Seymour
Fox said that I should send a copy of that film to Israel for historical
Interviewer: Go on.
Melton: Okay. Ready? After visiting the Old City, we went back to Tel Aviv
and stayed overnight so that we could catch a plane the next morning for Cairo,
Egypt. This plane was similar to a DC3 and we had approximately a dozen people
went to Egypt with us. All of them were Jewish who had been visiting Palestine
at the same time we were. I took a lot of film throughout our trip in Palestine
which also included Jaffa. Upon arriving in Egypt we stayed at the Shepherd
Hotel which was, I believe, the only hotel for foreigners in Cairo at that time.
And the first thing we ran into was a gang of approximately 40 to 60 children,
anywhere from three years old to eight years old, asking for, what do you call
it? That’s it. They had their hands out asking for bakshish. And we
finally got through the crowd of kids and we went into the hotel. And they
advised us at the hotel, anytime we go out into the street from now on, we
should have a guide. Otherwise we will never be able to get through those
children who are the beggars and are outside of the hotel at all times. Our tour
in Egypt covered the Sphinx, the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings at Karnak and
all of the normal sites that were shown to visitors in Egypt. This was ’38 I’m
We came back in 1967 or 1968 and we also toured the same sites that we saw in
’38 but there was a considerable difference including the museum which was
entirely different than what it was when we saw it the first time. It was
enlarged and they had many, many more items of interest such as solid gold
caskets and other items of that nature. The sites like the Sphinx was uncovered
as compared to what we saw in 1938. You could see the toes of the Sphinx and you
could see the supporting slab on which it rested. Also the Pyramids were much
more interesting because they had been cleaned up around the base and you could
see much more and we were able to walk into the large Pyramids. And we went up
to the area that was supposed to have been the burial chamber for the Great
Pharaoh of that date. This was not available in 1938.
Wait, I’m not ready for that yet. I want to…
We left Cairo for Port Said where we embarked on the Roma, which was another
ship, since we had spent a couple weeks touring both Israel and Egypt and the
ship on which we disembarked in Haifa continued on this cruise. The Roma took us
to Genoa where we disembarked for a day and we visited Mt. Vesuvius and we went
up on a crater. And I remember that the guy that took us up there was very
careful because there were still spouts and it was dangerous. But he showed us
how dangerous it was by taking a dime, a silver dime, and coating it with the
hot rock, which was melted rock, and that was my souvenir from Mt. Vesuvius. We
also toured the lower part of the community which was engulfed with the stream
of lava that flowed over the entire area. And we saw embalmed individuals that
were suffocated and embalmed with lava in their cots in their homes. That was a
very, very disturbing moment while we looked at those entombed bodies. After
touring Genoa and Mt. Vesuvius, we returned to our ship in Genoa. And I observed
something that was very unusual from the porthole of our room and I took
pictures of a number of submarines that the Italians had lined up along their
wharf. And these submarines were part of the navy that hit, that Mussolini had
assembled. I mention this because the government of the United States would have
loved to have the picture of those submarines but I never was able to get the
picture to them since it was a movie camera and I didn’t have the time to
prepare slides or pictures of any type from the film that I had.
From Genoa we went to Rome and disembarked. Then we covered Rome, Florence
and wound up in Venice, where we visited the art galleries and palaces and such
as that, which was also true of Florence and Rome. After our tour of those
cities, we got on an airplane for Budapest and the plane was supposed to stop in
Vienna. But before we boarded the plane, I visited the embassy, the U. S.
Embassy in Venice, and the young man that I spoke with advised me that there
would be no problem when we stopped in Vienna. We heard when we were in Venice
that Hitler had just taken over Vienna and we kind of thought that it may be
dangerous. When he advised that there wouldn’t be any problems, so when we did
get to Vienna the Nazi planes were lined up on both sides of the runway with the
Nazi emblem, the Swastika, on the tail on every one of those planes and there
must have been about 30 or 40 on each side of the runway. And when we landed
there and I thought that maybe we wouldn’t have any problem because we were
advised that there won’t be. However we were greeted by Nazi soldiers,
officers, who directed the men in one area and the women in another. The women
were undressed completely and searched. They left everything they had for an
inspection such as their purses and their valuables. And the men, all we did was
to hand over our passports, pocket books and any items of value such as watches
or rings. And they kept those and kept us for about two and a half hours and
then they returned everything to us and we boarded the plane and went on to
Budapest. When we arrived in Budapest there was no problem. We stayed overnight
in Budapest and we enjoyed. At that time it was supposed to be the Paris of
Europe. We saw a very good show and the first time in my life I saw a stage rise
from nowhere with a horse and rider on it which was very impressive and we
enjoyed the show. Later on we saw things like that in the Untied States but this
was the first time I saw it. This was 1938.
Well the next day I was able to contact a driver with an old Buick who toured
people from city to city in Hungary. Budapest at that time was an open city and
the Hungarians seemed to be very indulgent and happy and seemed to be
prosperous. This individual who was a Jew that drove me from Budapest to my
birthplace in Czechoslovakia, the name of the community or the small village was
Porubka, P-O-R-U-B-K-A, Porubka. And we had to, this was Friday afternoon and I
knew we were not going to be able to spend much time because my relatives were
very observant Jews. And I had to cross a creek which was at that time fairly
well flooded and there were no bridges. We were on the other side of the creek
in a little community called Swidnick, S-W-I-D-N-I-C-K, which was a trading area
for all the communities on the opposite side of the creek. On the opposite side
of the creek were the towns of Medvikjia and Henkavich. And in Medvikjia is
where my mother’s sister lived and her husband. The name of the family was
Freedman. And about a block further up the creek was Porubka where I was born
and where my mother’s brothers’ children still lived. That’s where I met
with the Gutter family and we spent the rest of the afternoon there. And I left
and crossed the creek again, this time on a lumber wagon that hauled logs. And I
sat on the center piece which was, you might call it the tongue of the wagon,
connecting both the front wheels and the back wheels. And this was a piece of
wood about 15 feet long and about six inches wide in diameter. And that’s what
I had to sit on when we crossed those rocks in the creek. It was kind of
dangerous but we made it.
Interviewer: When you were in Porubka talking to the Gutters, how concerned
were they about the forthcoming war? Did you talk about that?
Melton: They knew about some of the things but they were not very well
informed. But they were all trying to get out. So there were two boys that were
still there with the family and the rest were all women and young children. So I
decided that one of the boys had to remain there to take care of the family and
I selected one of the two brothers to go to the United States. So I went to the
bank and cashed some dollars and got guylden, g-u-y-l-d-e-n, which
is the local money, so that he could make the trip to the United States. And he
did arrive after we got back to the States. He still lives in Columbus and the
Freedman boys live in Columbus.
Interviewer: Which brother was that?
Melton: The one that belongs to Beth Jacob. His name is Itel, Itel, Irv,
Irv, Irving. Well we went, we got in a car after we crossed the creek. Esther
did not go with me across the creek. She stayed with the car. When I got back to
the car we drove to Presov, P-R-E-S-O-V, which was about 20 miles from my place
where I was born. This was a little community and it had a small hotel at which
we checked in. And that evening we had dinner with the Mendlowitz family which
was composed of about 12 people at the table. Most of them were girls and one
was Eddie Mendlowitz. Eddie came to the States immediately after my visit there
and he is now in Columbus. The family head was Nathan Mendlowitz who was a
fairly well-to-do, he had a flour mill where he made flour from wheat. He was
well aware of what was going on. I also visited a family that was somehow
related to the Cobey family and who was in business and had a small store and
had all types of linen materials such as table cloths, napkins and things like
that. And she was so desperate because she figured that she was going to lose
everything anyway. She would like to have any kind of money as long as it was
hard money like U. S. money. So she offered us a lot of linens which we were
able to move personally and took to Columbus. And I don’t remember exactly how
much I gave her but it was several hundred dollars and that money is what she
used to get out of the country. I understand she left her sister in Hungary with
the store and I don’t know what happened to the sister. But she came to Galion
because her son was part owner of a coat factory in Galion. So she visited with
her son when she got to this country. That’s a little extra.
This lady had a very nice young man for a son who was a Hungarian disciple.
He was taught that the Hungarian Army, which was Czechoslovakia already, was the
greatest army in Europe then, that they would not be able to take over Hungary.
So he wanted to stay. He let his mother go and of course he perished with the
rest of the people in that area. But I couldn’t convince him that he should go
to the United States. He was a graduate of one, of the university, the local
university and was a very much a…
Melton: a patriot. Good Now we can cut. The lady that I spoke about who had
the linen store and who sold us a lot of linen, her name was Klein, K-L-E-I-N.
Okay, that’s enough.
The following day after we had dinner with the Mendlowitz family, I went to
the bank and changed dollars into guylden so that Irving Gutter, would
have guylden in order to buy a ticket to the United States. And at the
same time I also gave some money to Nathan’s father in case that they needed
money for transportation for Eddie if he wanted to go. Then we proceeded to
return to Budapest. (End of Side A of Tape 2.) We stayed overnight in Budapest
and boarded the train for France. We had to go through Germany. And in Germany
at the border of France, the train was stopped and Nazi officers came through
the train asking people their nationality. I gave my nationality as an American
and U. S. citizen. This officer didn’t understand or didn’t want to accept
that as an answer to his request, which I knew meant religion. So he came back
at a later time, probably 15 minutes later, but in the meantime a little person
came into our compartment and sat down with an English newspaper and that’s
what he opened up and kept on reading. When the officer returned he asked the
same question, “What is your nationality?” And I said I was an
American citizen. This fellow that sat there with the paper spoke up and said,
“He wants to know your religion.” So I got up on my feet and looked up
to this guy about 6’4″ and said, “I am a Jew by religion.” And
I sat down. He snapped his heels, turned around, walked out and I didn’t know
what was going to happen. Esther and I were very, very perturbed about the whole
matter. We waited about a half hour and then the train started out and what a
relief that was. We got to Paris. Okay. The reason we were so worried was
because it was Judge Mack’s daughter, a very prominent judge in New York,
disappeared in Germany just before we left for our trip. And there was no way of
finding out what happened to her and they never did find out about that case.
Before we went to Germany, we had to get back to Vienna. When we got to the
Vienna station we had about two hours. Esther was very, very, she had those
headaches you know. This damn migraine hit her and she was sick and she was
feeling terrible. So I walked out of the station with her. I thought maybe a
little fresh air would help her. This was toward evening, it was evening, no it
was dark. So we walked out. I asked where there was a pharmacy around in the
area, so they told me to go on out there and turn left and around the corner you’ll
find a pharmacy. So I did that. And when we got to the pharmacy, the place was
closed but they had a bell. And I rang the fell and finally the guy must have
been sleeping. He came to the door that had a little slot which he opened up and
it was, it had iron guards, you know, what do you call that? Iron…
Melton: No it was like a fence, an iron fence. It was, iron bars, yeah, iron
bars. The whole door had iron bars and it had a little slot there and he was
able to open up a little slot in the door and talk through that slot. So, “Whaffle
ze hammen?” in German. So I told him, “Aspirin, Bayer’s,” I
said. “Bayer’s, Bayer’s Aspirin, I want Bayer’s Aspirin.” So he
went and got me some Bayer’s Aspirin and I gave him whatever he asked, I don’t
remember what it was anyway, I think it was a dollar bill. He took it, “Danka
shoen”, and closed the thing. Went back to the corner and there were
Nazi soldiers parading on all four corners. And there was a big sign on all
windows in the area, “Kein Juden” and this was very scary.
Finally, Esther and I walked back to the station and we remained inside the
station. She took care of herself and was miserable during the evening. Finally
it let up overnight. It was from Vienna that we went through Germany and when
this happened at the border of France.
When we arrived to the United States, of course, we had to relax and I became
busy with Capitol Manufacturing and Esther was busy with her mother and my
sister Myrtle, buying furniture and such as that. We first moved into an
apartment, a furnished apartment, at the Broadwin on East Broad Street. And we
were there for a few months and then moved to…
Interviewer: Cambridge Arms?
Melton: Cambridge Arms where we had an apartment with two bedrooms. And that’s
when my family and her family got involved in buying furniture and I became
involved in my business. As far as I was concerned, I left the entire matter of
furnishings for the house to the girls. Most of it was paid for by the Cobey
family so I had no worries about anything as far as furniture was concerned.
We were beginning to be interviewed with regard to what we could manufacture
in the way of ammunition or bomb parts or any type of armaments that would be
required by the army since the war was practically on in Europe. And things
looked very grave. I also had in mind that I would like to have some- one that I
could develop so that he would be able to operate a factory in Israel making
pipe fittings. This was on my mind and I investigated at the University as to
anyone that was Jewish in engineering. That remained unsolved until after the
Interviewer: What did you make during the war?
Melton: Later on in 1940 we made connectors for the gasoline lines in Africa.
And we made fuses for the 500 pound bomb. And we made noses for the 500 pound
bomb. And we also made tail pieces for the 500 pound bomb. We also made other
parts for equipment that I was not familiar with since it only had a number. In
addition to the material that we furnished to other suppliers that made up the
complete part, ours was just an ingredient of another complete unit. We also
made a lot of electrical fittings for the Manhattan Project in Tennessee. That
was a very important project which resulted in the atomic bomb. We shipped
carloads of material to Tennessee and didn’t have any idea what they were
using it for since it was a secret project, but we were busy making the
material. And it continued throughout the war. In 1945 we were awarded the
Army-Navy “E” for excellence in production of war materials which
I remember one instance when we were manufacturing noses and fuses that we
had trouble. One evening after services at the congregation on Friday night, I
drove to the factory, which was common practice at night, to see whether things
were moving along since many of our items that we were furnishing had to be
shipped at a due date so that it would meet a boat or an airplane for delivery.
And it was crucial that we had that part or parts made on time and I often
checked that at night. This particular night was a very cold night and my wife
and her mother were in my car when I drove over there, over to the factory. And
I left them in the car with the motor running so that they would have heat in
the car and I told them I would be back very shortly. I ran into a problem when
I walked into the factory. The machine that was operating on the fuse part froze
and they couldn’t move it. In other words, there was something wrong either
with the motor or with the machine itself. And my maintenance man at night was
not as familiar with the equipment as the man in the daytime. So after I checked
with him I decided we had to take the head off of the machine in order to clean
out the dirt and grit that had accumulated in the bearings. I forgot all about
my wife and her mother. When I entered the factory it was about 9:30. It was
12:30 when I came out and they were practically frozen. But they didn’t come
in after me because they knew something important was happening. So I freed up
the machine, we put it back together and it was operating at 12:30 and instead
of quitting at 2:30, they had to operate all night long and we made delivery the
Interviewer: During the war did you have a lot of people who were drafted and
enlisted? Were you able to replace them?
Melton: Yes we had people that were drafted but not very many of the
important people, only workmen that were reasonably replaceable. The foreman and
supervisors generally were, what do you call it?
Interviewer: Were they beyond draft age?
Melton: No. They were generally eliminated, what do you call that from draft?
Interviewer: Oh they were eliminated because they had…
Melton: They were not required to go because they had an important position
for armaments. Period.
As I spoke about Israel previously, I wanted to have a factory there to give
those people employment and an opportunity possibly for export. And I decided
that since there were a lot of Jewish wholesale plumbing supply people who used
a lot of pipe fittings, it would be natural for an Israeli manufacturer of pipe
fittings to export to the United States. I was advised by Rabbi Kaplan who was
at that time Hillel Director at Ohio State University, that there was a young
man who was going to graduate in engineering at the University who was Jewish
and who was a refugee from Germany. That a Rabbi adopted him when he came to the
United States in the late 30s. This rabbi sent him to Ohio State University so
that he could get an education and the young man decided he wanted to take
engineering. So he was available and I called him or he was sent to my office by
Rabbi Kaplan of Hillel. And I put him to work in the factory so that he would be
able to operate pipe fitting machines that we would send to Israel. And he
worked there about from ’47 through ’49 and learned about the operation of
the machine as well as the maintenance of the machines. And then I started
buying equipment for the manufacture of pipe fittings to be shipped to Israel.
And I also bought a building from the army which was surplus, but which we had
Melton: to take apart.
Interviewer: Knock down?
Melton: Take apart. Not knock down, take apart so that it could be
reassembled in Israel. And I had him go to the site where we purchased this
building, which was 40X100′ long and he unassembled it so that he would know
how to assemble it when it arrived in Israel. In addition to that I bought a
power plant, a diesel power plant, which made electricity. And I bought a lot of
power duct which conducted the electricity to the equipment that was to use the
electricity. I also bought a lot of other items that were necessary for the
completion of the factory. The only thing we had to have in Israel was concrete
for the floor. This was accomplished by early ’49. And I sent Herbert Eaton,
who was the young engineer-refugee to Israel and asked him to get in touch with
the officials and advise them that I would like to ship a plant to make pipe
fittings somewhere around Tel Aviv. He came back with glowing reports that they
wanted the plant and get it there as fast as possible. And it was shipped to
Israel. And I accompanied Herbert Eaton to Israel before the equipment arrived.
It arrived a few days after I got to Israel with Eaton.
We had to obtain a site which they said was no problem. Well it took more
than two weeks before I finally got in touch with the treasurer, Dr. Kaplan, who
at that time seemed to be the only person that was knowledgeable and cared
enough to take care of our request for land. And he found some property that was
Arab owned, but under the control of the Arab Division of the Israeli
Government. It was a matter of ten dunam, six miles south of Tel Aviv. All of
the material that was at the port in Tel Aviv was then delivered from Tel Aviv
port to the site which was called Yazur, Y-A-Z-U-R, and later became Holon,
H-O-L-O-N. It took several weeks before I was finished there with all the detail
regarding incorporation and obtaining the people to erect the plant under the
supervision of Herbert Eaton. As time went on problems arose and Eaton was not
capable of completing the plant. He was only 24 years old and became involved
with Israeli people and seemed to neglect his duties and I had to return to
Israel to straighten things out. And I had to find someone that was capable and
to replace this young man. I was fortunate in obtaining a man by the name of
Glickman who later changed his name to Gilan, G-I-L-A-N, who finished the
building, installed the equipment and trained the people to run the machines.
And the operation was very successful under his administration which lasted
about five years. Eaton became a government individual and I didn’t see him
after I let him out.
In the meantime when I came back to the United States, I decided I better try
to get an Israeli who is at Ohio State as an engineer and fortunately there were
several. The first one I got worked for about six months in the factory in
Columbus. And I sent him to Israel and immediately as he arrived in Israel he
was drafted into the army. So I still didn’t have a man there that was an
American. So I went ahead and found another young man who had a family in the
Untied States and was willing to return. And I trained him for six months and
sent him back to Israel so that he could enter the operation there also. What
happened to him was he divorced his wife or left his wife after he worked at the
plant for about a year and went to England to spend the money that he took from
the factory. So those experiences with these people made me decide that I would
be better off to turn over the operation to my relatives who had no experience
at all. And I got ahold of two sisters who were formerly Mendlowitz girls, one
of which I met when I was in Czechoslovakia on my honeymoon and the other one
was in Israel previous to ’38. Both of them were married. And I was happy to
be able to get rid of a headache by turning it over to these people who was able
to operate the pipe nipple factory and fitting factory too so that it would
continue in operation because the foreman of the plant remained from the very
beginning all through these other various managers and he stayed with the
company and helped my relatives by showing them how to operate and maintain the
equipment. My relatives have done very well and the operation in Israel was a
success for approximately ten years, after which other people in Israel,
especially a Kibbutz, started making the same pipe fittings that we were making.
And they were more efficient and my relatives, since they were well off by now,
didn’t pay too much attention. The property on which the factory was became a
good parcel of real estate. They put up a new building and they now have other
businesses which they are operating. Okay, go ahead.
Interviewer: I wanted to ask you when did you first become involved in your
long association with the Federation?
Melton: That happened about 1946 when Sam Rothberg came to Columbus to
address the Jewish people in the city at a meeting at the Southern Hotel. He
pointed out that the war was over and we had thousands and thousands of refugees
throughout Europe that had to be transferred to Palestine and that’s where
they wanted to go, and that we had to raise a lot of money in order to take care
of that project. In addition, I don’t know, there was also a very important
thing that was happening in Israel called the Haganah which was really a group
that wanted to make a state for the Jews in Palestine. The British would not
permit the Jews to actually gain entrance into Palestine at that time. The ships
with refugees were forced to leave the shores of Palestine and forced to go
elsewhere. There was one ship called the…that cruised for months
throughout the Atlantic Ocean trying to deliver these refugees and they could
not get in anywhere. Finally that boat called the “Exodus” was sunk
with all of its passengers. That’s before ’46 though, after ’46 — you
asked about ’40. All right. My trip to Israel in ’49 resulted in arriving in
France, the port…
Melton: Marseilles. At Marseilles we boarded a ship called Kedmah,
K-E-D-M-A-H, which was a river boat that used to ply the Danube River and the
captain of that boat was a Jewish person who was a Hungarian captain for the
Hungarian Navy. And this was the same man who was operating this Kedmah carrying
over 1300 refugees from Marseilles to Haifa. These people were in the bottom of
the boat which was the cargo hold. And they were on the floor, and in hammocks,
a lot of little children and it was a great experience. I had brought some candy
with me and it was hard sugar candy. And I remember giving some of that candy to
these children. And every day on my trip to Israel which took five days, those
kids would come up, not beg, just sat around until I would give them another
piece of candy and then they would leave. This kept on, as I said, for
approximately five days and the people were so happy that they were going to
Palestine. And most of them were gaunt, in very bad shape physically. There was
one couple on that boat that had several trunks. And they had the other room on
this boat which had room for two families; in other words, they had two rooms
for tourists on this boat.
Melton: No just rooms. And the other room was, with this older couple who had
all these trunks loaded with heavy material, and when we landed in Haifa, the
people kissed the ground when they got there. But this couple was held on the
ship for the immigration people to check out because evidently they were Kapocks,
they worked for the Nazis in the camps. Were they Kapocks or something like
that? That’s, anyway…
Melton: They were not collaborators. They had to do it whether they wanted to
or not. They were working for them and this was one way they were able to stay
alive. But they were able to pick up a lot of jewelry and a lot of valuables and
they had very, very heavy trunks. I don’t know what was in them but there must
have been a lot of valuable material and that’s what the Israeli officials
wanted to get to. So that’s why they were detained on the boat.
And the children as they were getting off the boat, everybody seemed to want
to get out quickly and the children were not able to get through. So a couple of
us handed the children over the heads of the people to other people who were
able to pick them up and take them down. Okay, that’s enough.
Interviewer: This interview continues on Tape 3. This is Tape 3 of an
interview with Sam Melton, continuing on November 23, 1986. When you had the
factory in Israel, you were telling me that you shared profits with some of the
organizations in Israel. What were some of those that were established in the
Melton: One of the prime interests of mine was to establish an industry that
would share profits for institutions in Israel. Fortunately after we were
established and operating under Mr. Gilan’s management, we started making
substantial profits. and we divided those profits on a basis of 60% for charity,
management and operators, the people in the plant. The exact proportion that
went to management and the people in the plant I believe was 50%, 60% of the
total that was allotted for charity and beneficiary, benefits for the operators
and management. I remember that we had a substantial amount, something like over
$2,000 the first year for Hebrew University and something like $500 to $1,000
for Meir Shefeyah Village where Tsipora worked and took care of the Village
children and Weizman Institute as well as Haifa Institute. Each one of them got
a fair amount in dollars.
The manager himself was substantially remunerated which made him happy and he
actually performed very well for the next several years. By the time 1954, in
that area, he got involved with a firm that evidently promised him a partnership
and he was working for them in our plant, doing some experimental work that was
costly to us and our profits went down to zero practically. We had a loss in the
one year and that’s when I discovered what was happening and I had to let him
out. But I felt that he did a good job during the period while he was there and
I gave him the Chevrolet car that we had there plus 200 shares of the company as
a parting gift. I knew that in the event that we had trouble, we could count on
him to help us out. That was one of the reasons why I thought it was a desirable
maneuver to give him that consideration.
Interviewer: Did the cousins take it over at that point?
Melton: That’s when I turned it over to Tsipora and Adena and their
husbands and I advised them that they should retain the superintendent in the
plant who was knowledgeable about the machinery and the operations, so that
under no circum- stances should they let him out because they would have no way
of operating without him. And when they took over, they began showing nice
profits. Even- tually they bought cars, they built their homes and they got
along very well.
As time went on, another Kibbutz brought in new machinery and started making
pipe nipples just like our factory was making. And they were more productive and
of course did not have the overhead because it was a partnership, a Kibbutz
program. And they were able to eventually take over most of the busi- ness,
which took about 10 years. And at that time my relatives decided to put up a
building which was required by the contract that I made originally of expansion
on the property that we were awarded in 1949. So they completed this building
and that’s where they are now and they have the machinery in the basement of
the building with very little production. But their main operation is leasing
space in this warehouse and storage building that they have plus operating a
furniture warehouse and store. This is how they are making their living today.
And they are well off. The family has grown and there are grandchildren now.
Adena also had a daughter who became affiliated with my Bat Yam school where she
was teaching. I believe she is still teaching there at this time.
Interviewer: How did you get involved with the Bat Yam project?
Melton: The Bat Yam School became a project when I was approached by Goldman
who was at that time working for the Jewish Agency or some other organization.
Interviewer: Is that Ralph Goldman from the UJA?
Melton: Yeah. It was the Education Fund. Ralph Goldman was working for the
Israel Education Fund at that time and he told me that one of the main things
that Israel required was a technical school to train teenagers so that they
would be capable of helping in an industry that isn’t required, mainly the
munitions industry, the airplane industry and such as that. And I agreed that
they did not have any facilities where they were training any people. I
therefore put up the first building, I think in 1954 or ’55. And after that I
kept on giving them funds so that they could keep on adding to that school which
is at the present time having an enrollment of approximately 800 teenagers. And
this is the school at which Adena’s oldest daughter who has children, working,
teaching. I think that covers…
Interviewe: One of your other beneficiaries in Israel is the Hebrew
University. How did you become involved in that one?
Melton: Hebrew Univeersity was the main university at that time and I knew
about it. They had just completed construction of a facility in the city of
Jerusalem, downtown area. My first check to them, as I said, was several
thousand, couple thousand dollars and every year after that as long as we made
money through 1954, they received checks. I didn’t have any other reason to
give money to them other than that they required funds and I knew that they were
looking for people who were able to help them. Okay?
Interviewer: Then they had the big expansion then into the heights after
that? When did they move the campus from downtown Jerusalem?
Melton: After the war when, the ’57 war, is when they took over Mount
Scopus and they occupied the building that they had there previously. And then
they started building there and Ralph Goldman told me at the time, “Now
that you have a building, teachers, a technical school, they require teachers
for that school and why don’t you set up a chair in teacher training for
secondary schools?” That’s how I happened to give the money for a chair
at Hebrew University about 195–, I don’t know. Maybe it was 1960, ’65. I
don’t remember. But that’s when I gave the chair to the University.
Interviewer: When did the Truman Center approach you then…
Melton: The Truman Center was a program that was originated by Sam Rothberg
and he came to me and told me that he had to have a few more people to finish
raising funds for the Truman Center for Peace in the Middle East. That was about
1965. And 37 people went to Independence, Missouri, where the dedication
ceremonies were held for construction of a facility in Jerusalem that was going
to be named the “Harry S. Truman Center for Peace in the Middle East”.
President Johnson attended that affair and Chief Justice, I forget his name,
also attended the affair. We had 37 members that gave $100,000 each and we had
about 200 security people lining the halls on both side and outside of the
building where the ceremony was held with Sam Rothberg on the stage or the, as
well as President Johnson, President Truman and Chief Justice, the last one not
to resign now. What was his name? Okay.
Interviewer: Why do you suppose President Truman wanted that? Did he request
it to be at Hebrew University?
Melton: No I don’t think so. I think that was, Sam Rothberg was a friend of
Harry Truman and that’s how it happened. That’s all I know, but I went along
Interviewer: Then the other facility at the Hebrew University was the Center
for Learning in the Diaspora. That was your other, one of your other
Melton: Yeah. Hebrew University was looking to spread Jewish education in the
Diaspora. People from Argentina and other parts of the world were requesting
Jewish education material. At that time, Seymour Fox who had been at the Jewish
Theological Seminary where he operated the Melton Research Center, transferred
to Hebrew University, and he contacted me and told me that this was one of the
desirable programs that Hebrew University required, furnishing educational
material to the Diaspora. So I was influenced by his suggestion and after
thinking about it I agreed to set up a Center for Jewish Education in the
Diaspora. And that is still operating and has been very successful. They have
had many programs, some of which have created scholars that are now scattered
throughout the world. One of their very successful programs was the Fellow
Program which produced people who are now teaching at Harvard, Brandeis,
Columbia and all over Argentina, throughout the world. This program was created
with 20 people, all of whom as now considered scholars and I might name one or
two. I can name one who is at Brandeis presently, or was there recently and his
name is Bob Chazen who is very proud of the fact that he was a Fellow under the
Melton Program Okay.
Interviewer: Okay. You know, we’ve talked about Israel and we have
neglected what was going on back home. So let’s go back like to 1947 when you
adopted your twins because they were instrumental in some other philanthropies
you had in the 60s. So why don’t we start with Minna and Michael and go
through the 50s with them and their education?
Melton: Well Minna and Michael were at Tifereth Israel Congregation school
and being trained for Bar and Bat Mitzvah. They always came home
complaining during that period that it was very boring and they didn’t like it
and that they would rather not be Bar or Bat Mitzvahed. They’d
prefer to forget it. So I went to the school and found out why they were bored
and I agreed that it was a very poor school for Jewish education because it was
comparable to what they taught me when I was trained for Bar Mitzvah. That
was 50 years previously. So I decided to go to the Seminary and ask them to
provide a program of Jewish education for our synagogue so that it would be of
interest to the children so they could continue their training for Bar
and Bat Mitzvah and also have a Jewish education giving them some history
and information about their background and their traditions. When I got to talk
to those people up at the Seminary, I had previously met with Dr. Artz who came
to Columbus in the 30s collecting money so that they could survive. And I
remembered his name so that’s who I got in contact with and when I told him
the story about our requirements at Temple Tifereth Israel, he called in Dr.
Finkelstein and Dr….the other one. Maybe I should get that name in there. And
Dr. Simon Greenberg.
During our conference they decided that they had no facilities for educating
children. They therefore called in a young graduate rabbi by the name of Seymour
Fox and when he heard the story, he came up with a plan that was very, very
interesting and I went for it because it was logical and he was very
enthusiastic. I felt that he could produce what was needed for Jewish education.
And I asked him how much it would cost and how long would it take to produce a
program that would be of interest to children. And Seymour Fox came up with an
answer of two years and $125,000. So I said, “Fine, I’ll go along with
that. When do you start?” They would start immediately and they would
provide the principal and two graduate teachers from the Seminary so that we
would begin operations in 19…the Fall of 1960. This meeting at the Seminary
was November, 1959, and I gave them a check and they started working out a
program. And in the Fall of 1960, Rabbi, Cantor, no he was a Cantor wasn’t he,
Saul Wachs came to Columbus with two graduate teachers, one of which today is
married and living in Columbus and has a family and who is active in Jewish
education throughout the city.
Interviewer: What was it about Seymour Fox’s plan that intrigued you so
much? You said it was practical and what you wanted. What was his program?
Melton: There were four parts and I can’t remember them right offhand. I’d
have to look it up. There were four parts. First we would have Jewish history.
We would have that. Jewish tradition. The philosophy and Judaism and definitely
a program of Siddur that would cover what we needed for the Bar and Bat
Mitzvah children and make it so interesting that they would love to be part
of the Jewish program. Something to that effect.
Interviewer: Who was going to teach this?
Melton: The teachers were the two teachers that they brought here from the
Seminary, graduate teachers from the teacher’s college and Saul Wachs who was
a very prominent Jewish educator from Philadelphia, Brusk College. I believe he
was with them. He is there now. He is the head of it now.
Interviewer: Once those teachers left, then who was going to take over?
Melton: That’s when we had trouble. We had one good man who came here after
Seymour Fox left the Seminary. His name was Lou Newman and he was a scholar and
he produced material and forwarded it to our school. But our staff at the school
had deteriorated and we had a new rabbi that did not handle the matter properly
and we were also hampered by the fact that the Seminary was supposed to furnish
additional teachers but they never did at that time.
Interviewer: I understood they were supposed to be training local people to
teach their material. Did that ever come about?
Melton: That was supposed to be by the young people that came here as
principals. They did a fair job, but they never did equal what Saul Wachs was
able to do. Saul Wachs was somehow or another was more influential with teaching
the teachers that we had than the people who followed him. We had Eddie, a
fellow by the name of Edelman who was a graduate of the Seminary and two or
three more. But none of them equaled what we had originally.
Interviewer: Now it’s 26 years later and more than $125,000 later. What
more went into the program after those first few years to make it continue and
Melton: Oh my. I gave them 40-68,000 shares of Harsco stock and prior to that
I kept on giving them money at the rate of about $80-$100,000 per year. That was
in the form of a trust fund that I set up with the Ohio National Bank and they
paid out this money from the stock dividends that I had set up with the trust
and that trust after 13 years, came due. And this time instead of creating
another trust, I decided to divide up the 80,000 shares of stock that I had in
that trust at the Ohio National Bank by giving 68,000 shares to the Seminary and
12,000 shares to the school at the Temple Tifereth Israel. The school at Temple
Tifereth Israel finally sold that stock for $860,000 and the Seminary sold their
stock for a matter of $3,0000,000 total.
Interviewer: Now the Melton School had a wider effect than just on Tifereth
Melton: Oh yes. They have now about 50 schools through the United States who
are using the material and being supervised by the Seminary staff which is now
under, the name? What did I say, now…
Interviewer: The supervisor, the people now are…
Melton: The supervisors today are Barry Holtz and Eddie Roush.
Interviewer: Do you feel that what the Seminary has done with that has met
your expectations or exceeded your expectations from 1960?
Melton: At the present time I think that we are doing a great job at the
Seminary. I felt that they were doing much better than the previous group under
Lou Newman and I felt that they deserved encouragement to continue and improve.
The Seminary came up with a program which is a Fellows Program that will take
care of six Fellows annually with complete cost and expenses and 20 people that
will have a ten-day retreat at some vacation spot which will give these people a
chance to have a intense program of Jewish studies. The first program of this
nature took place the Summer of 1986 and I received report from each person that
attended this program which was so exciting and exhilarating and informative
that I was really astonished to read these reports, one of which was from…what’s
her name in Columbus…our teacher in Columbus, Anne Bonowitz.
Interviewer: Anne Bonowitz.
Melton: Anne Bonowitz who came up to me and told me she never had experienced
such a wonderful program in her life. This program was financed by a cash
payment of $1,000,000 during the year of 1986 for which I am very happy and
content that it will do the job for training teachers who are at the present
time in the field of teaching Jewish education.
Interviewer: Now getting back to Jewish education, at about the time or
shortly after you established the Melton Research Center at the Seminary, you
also became involved at Ohio State University and you wanted to establish some
vehicle for Jewish education there. How did you proceed to do that?
Melton: Ohio State University, being a state university, I thought would not
be amenable to Jewish education. However since the program at the Seminary was
so successful, I decided that I would approach someone like Charles Lazarus who
was a member of the Board of Regents at Ohio State University at that time and
ask him to approach the President and find out if they would consider a Jewish
Studies program, especially a Jewish history program and studies. Well I
received a telephone call from Dr….
Interviewer: Fawcett, was it Fawcett?
Melton: Dr. Fawcett of Ohio State University who requested to see me with
regard to a Chair in Jewish History and Studies. Esther was very sick at that
time and I told him that it would be okay if he came over to the house. He
wanted to come over to the house and talk to me and Esther, but she was upstairs
in bed. So I spoke with him at my home and I was surprised to hear that they
would be very interested in a Jewish Studies Program. I agreed to set up a Chair
at Ohio State after a period of three years to see if it would be feasible. Well
we were able to bring in a great Jewish educator, Professor Tzvi Ankori, who at
that time was teaching at Columbia University. And after one year of experiment
its success was so great that I went along with the Chair program after one year
and I gave them the funds which exceed a little over $500,000 because the stock
was worth more than exactly $500. That was the beginning of the Chair at Ohio
State University. They have had at high as 1,800 students participating in the
After a while the program had as many as a dozen professors and they required
a facility so that they could meet and a secretary so that they could take care
of each individual’s requirements. That’s when I set up a Center for Jewish
Studies which included all the disciplines such as Hebrew, Jewish Philosophy
even Yiddish, as well as History and other disciplines. Now have their
own office under the Melton Center for Jewish Studies and it is still a
successful program. In addition we have a library which was set up under the
name of, a Jewish library and set up under the name of Michael Melton as a
memorial. And originally it was set up by contributions from Stanley Schwartz
and others and I then proceeded to give them $100,000 in 13% bonds which they
are now using and have sufficient to take care of new additions that they are
Interviewer: Did that lead to the Chair of Jewish Studies which was more
Melton: The Chair was endowed a long time ago.
Interviewer: What was the most recent thing that you did?
Melton: The most recent is the Center for Jewish Education which is a
$750,000 program. So at the present time the Melton Program has two items. One
is the Center for Jewish Education. The other one is the Chair for Jewish
Education. And the third item is the Library, Melton Library.
Interviewer: Now you’ve expanded your, I mean you’ve continued your
interest in Jewish education to other universities and endowed other
Melton: Oh yeah. The last item of university was the University of Florida
and Kent State University in Ohio. Also I contributed to the Maryland University
when Dr. Smith went to Maryland University as a campaigner. He called me and
wanted to establish a Jewish Studies Program there and I gave him some seed
money which he was very happy with, for a period of two years. And I also told
him to contact a very Jewish and wealthy individual who might be interested. And
that person, I forget his name, was able to set up the chair at Maryland
University with a $1,000,000 program. And they have contributed substantially is
Brandeis and they have a program for the training of Jewish teachers.
Interviewer: Okay. Now we have established, you’ve established all these
things at the universities but in addition to that, you have shown that you have
a very strong communal interest because you established the Esther Melton
Community Center on College Avenue.
Interviewer: And that was about what, 1968 or ’69?
Melton: No, yes, somewhere in there, ’67, ’68, I don’t remember. I
established the Esther Melton Memorial Center for the purpose of giving a home
for the Columbus Jewish Federation and the Columbus Jewish Family Service, as
well as the B’nai B’rith organization. These people had offices throughout
the city and paying fairly high rents and I decided I would set up a facility
that would house all of these organizations, which has proved out to be very
economical for the community. Okay?
Interviewer: I understand it’s overgrown at this point.
Melton: Now let them worry. I’m not going to furnish any more money for
that. The community is well along and they are able to finance their own
facility programs. They are giving away a lot of money which they are able to
raise for charitable purposes, so they should be able to care of themselves
Interviewer: You were also a major contributor to the new Center building
Melton: Oh yeah. The Center program was one program that I was not in favor
of at that time. I thought that they could use the bowling alley for additional
space since the bowling alley was not being utilized as such. However since the
community was very much in favor of having a new facility with an indoor
swimming pool and other refinements that they said they required in addition to
the, more meeting rooms and better facilities for the preschool children. So I
was not too sold on it. However when they met and I was included in this
original group about raising the funds. We were talking about $8,000,000 which
was an awful lot of money, in my opinion, for the facility.
I asked some of the top givers how much they were willing to come up with.
And finally one group of people (Should I mention names?) the Schotten- steins
said they’d come up with $100,000. I said, “Well there’s no use talking
if you’re going to come up with $100,000. We’re talking about $8,000,000.
How can you do that?” So they raised it to $300,000. And Les Wexner went
for $300,000. I said, “Okay, I’ll go along on that too.” Then after
haggling some more, we decided that wasn’t sufficient for the original goal
for the sum that was required, that we had to come up with more. So I proposed
that if Les Wexner would go for $1,000,000 and the Schottensteins would go for
$500,000,” I don’t remember exactly what some of the others were supposed
to give, I said, “Okay I’ll go for $500,000 too.” This would make it
possible to look better when we go to a meeting of the community. So the
Schottensteins didn’t go along at that time. Finally Irving Schottenstein who
was the prime mover in this, as well as Mel Schottenstein, they came up with the
five hundred, but Schottenstein brothers did not. So I said, “I won’t go
along then.” Finally Eric Schottenstein called me in Florida and said,
“Okay Sam, we’ll all go along for $500,000 and Les Wexner is going to go
for a million. Are you ready to go?” I said, “Okay, I’ll go
along.” So the next thing I heard was that they went to Leo Yassenoff who
was supposed to give $500,000 originally and they got $1,000,000 from him and
Les Wexner said, “Okay, we’ll name this facility the ‘Yassenoff Jewish
Interviewer: Now Leo Yassenoff had already died at this time. Do you mean…
Interviewer: funded his foundation?
Melton: That’s right. Leo Yassenoff was gone and he had left a sizable
foundation which was under the control of Mel Schottenstein. So when Les Wexner
went to the meeting with Mel Schottenstein and two other gentile people who are
members of the board of the Yassenoff Foundation and Les Wexner was so happy
with this $1,000,000 gift from them that he said, “We’ll name the
facility ‘the Leo Yassenoff Center’.” When Irving Schottenstein told me
that over the phone I said, “Oh no. If they’re going to name this ‘the
Yassenoff Center’ Mr. Yassenoff’s Foundation has to come up with at least
50% of the total.” So finally they said, “Okay we’ll go back and see
the Yassenoff Foundation and see what we can do.” So I got a call later on
that the Yassenoff Foundation will give $2,000,000, Les Wexner will give
$1,000,000 and all the rest will give a half a million. So that made it
practical so I said, “Okay we’ll go ahead and do it.” And at the
dedication which was held, I don’t know what date, I came up from Florida and
I was presented with one of the Founder’s Plaques which was given to Les
Wexner, the Yassenoff Foundation, Irving Schottenstein and me. After all the
other Schottensteins was a group. Anyway, that was it.
Interviewer: All right. In addition to all of the other philanthropic things,
you’ve always been religiously oriented because of your family background and
you’ve been involved with Tifereth Israel, which you told me you became
especially involved in with the first remodeling phase which began approximately
20 years after the Temple was established on Broad Street. That would bring us
up to about…
Interviewer: The Temple was built in ’27 and then about ’47 the
Melton: No the school building.
Interviewer: the school building started. Would you like to reminisce a
little bit about that?
Melton: Yeah we can go back to the beginning. My family moved in to Columbus
from Toledo, Ohio, in 1919 and we became members of Tifereth Israel which was
located on Parsons Avenue at that time and I attended services with my parents
through the years. In 1926 the building on East Broad Street was purchased and
completed in 1927. That was the original Temple. And I remember that I was able
to make a small contribution at that time for the building of the original
Temple. My father and my uncle were all involved. Then I was a dues-paying
member and kept on improving my dues structure as time went on. In 1945 they
were talking about a school building and they asked me to serve as Campaign
Director and take care of the construction as well. So I took over the job,
raised the funds. The total cost of the building was not too heavy. It was
approximately $126,000 It was constructed by Leo Yassenoff who had done a lot of
work for me during the years and with whom I had confidence and also had a close
relations. He gave me a good price, such as no other contractor would give us.
So the building was dedicated in 1946 and finished in 1947. It was the first
school building in the City of Columbus for Jewish education, first school
building primarily used for Sunday School and such as that.
The next program which I became involved was when the membership grew to a
point where the facility required an addition in order to take care of the
membership and their family. So we, so I was appointed as the Director for
Construction as well as fund raising for the building.
I failed to talk about how the funds were raised for the school building. I
might as well complete that. I already had been married to Esther and the Cobey
family wanted to have a memorial for Mrs. Cobey who died. I was able to get
close to $50,000 from the Cobey family and I gave a second largest contribution
which covered 50% of the total for the building. We still had to go out and
raise money besides the contributions by mortgaging a part, which was later paid
off and the mortgage was burned.
Now I’m going to come back to the Social Hall. The Social Hall originally
was approximately $350,000 for the facility itself and the amenities including
the seats, the rugs, all the completion of the synagogue proper came to about
$525,000. The families that were originally involved, including myself, raised
approximately 40% of the total, probably even a little more, and we had to have
a mortgage in order to finish that. That was in 1961. I can only say that I was
happy to be a part of the program and it was successful. The mortgage was paid
off and also burned. That’s the end of that.
Interviewer: Now we’re approaching a third reconstruction, remodeling…
Interviewer: twenty-some, 25 or 26 years later. And you’re involved in that
Melton: This time I am only making a contribution which is a substantial one
compared to the total. The total is going to be $3,250,000 and my contribution
is a half a million of course which is the largest contribution so far for the
Interviewer: All right. Let’s go back a little way. Your business at
Capitol had become very successful and in the mid-50s you had been approached by
several people who wanted to purchase Capitol and eventually you sold it to the
Interviewer: What year was that?
Melton: I sold it in November, 1958, took effect as of January, 1959. The
Harsco Corporation finally gave me what I wanted. I was approached by Harsco in
1956. Mr Horner, who was then Vice-President, approached me in Florida and
started talking about buying our company. I gave him a price at that time and he
said it was too much and I didn’t hear from him again until about late in ’58
and this time they paid more than double what I asked for in 1956. So the deal
was made and I received stock and cash. The reason I wanted the cash is because
I wanted to pay my capital gains tax. Since I had very little invested to start
with, practically all of the sale would become taxable as a capital gain and I
was happy to pay the tax so I did. That’s how that happened. I was then made a
member of the board of Harsco and was made President of Capitol Manufacturing
for life and I am still President for Life and that’s in name only. I have
nothing to do with Capitol nor have I had anything to do with Capitol actually
since 1973 when I resigned from Harsco. But my relations with Harsco was always
very satisfactory and congenial and we did a good job for them during that
period and a bigger job after I left. So Capitol has done a great job in
repaying for itself many, many times. And Harsco under the old regime was very
happy but of course today, they have new people at the head of Harsco that are
younger and we’ll see what happens in the future.
Interviewer: So you’ve actually been retired from the day-to-day activities
since about 1962.
Interviewer: So you’ve been retired now over 25, almost 25 years which is a
long time. What have you done during these past 25 years that’s given you the
Melton: Giving away money.
Interviewer: Giving away…
Melton: Supporting institutions and all types of charities. That’s my goal.
I have a foun- dation which I was able to, initiated my foundation approximately
in the late 50s-early 60s and have been able to utilize the income from the
stock which I have contributed to the foundation, and the dividends from such
stock by making contributions for many causes. Approximately 100 different
institutions and programs have been benefited by my foundation each year for the
last 20-some years. Okay.
Interviewer: So you’ve worked as hard at giving away money as you did at
making it originally then?
Melton: That’s a good line right there. I would say that’s true. I enjoy
doing it and I am going to continue doing it as long as I live, as long as I
Interviewer: What, during your lifetime, what changes do you think have
brought about the most important changes in the world actually in the past 86
years? Or what developments do you recall?
Melton: Many, many changes have come about. I remember we had a terrible
situation back in the 20s when Father Coughlin created a terrible situation of
anti-Semitism by his weekly preachings and sermons, always each of which was
anti-Semitic, which was also financially supported by Henry Ford personally.
That made a very deep impression on me because up to that time we did not know
much difference between our situation as Jews as well as any other people, like
the Poles, the Italians. Most of us were immigrants in those, prior to that
date. And then came the Hitler program starting in the 30s and that was a
continuation of the sad situation of anti-Semitism. And there was no halting to
it and of course, the Second World War came about because of Hitler and his
program of anti- Semitism. They practically wanted to wipe out the Jews
throughout the world. That was his ambition. I was very, very concerned about
that situation and we still have it with us with people like Reverend Jackson
and this fellow…
Melton: Reverend what? Fara… Reverend Fara, Farenkamp? No not
Farenkamp? Anyway we still have a lot of anti-Semitism in the world especially
the Arab situation which is constantly terrorizing people throughout the world,
blaming the Jews for all their problems. And they always had problems and now
since they have the money through the oil program, they seem to be very
important and are promoting Arab terrorism throughout the world and blaming the
Jews for their program. We are in a world of turbulence caused by intolerance of
people which should be corrected and to which not sufficient attention has been
paid by people throughout the universe. Intolerance is a big problem. Period.
Interviewer: Do you see any solution for that in the future?
Melton: I am afraid that we are going to have intolerance throughout the rest
of our lives and in the future. It has been true throughout the ages. We had
Cain and Abel. We’ve had other situations similar to that and it’s been
going on for years and I don’t see any end to it. But I guess we have put up
with it and live with it and do the best we can. I might add that I have
traveled throughout the United States. I’ve visited every corner of this
country and in Canada as well, by car and I believe I know the people throughout
the various areas of this country. And I also have traveled throughout all of
Europe and North Africa and of course the Middle East including Tehran, Iran,
Turkey, all that area. And throughout my travels I have not seen another place
in the world that I would care to spend the rest of my life as we have right
here in the United States, even this area in Columbus or Florida or any place
out in the far West. I am very happy with what we have and I’ll continue to be
satisfied with my situation as it is, and hope to continue to make contributions
for welfare programs that are worthwhile. Okay.
Transcribed/corrected by Honey Abramson.