Samuel Rubel was a celebrated entrepreneur and a man obscured by controversy. In 1912, he pressed charges against his then fiancée, Dora Nachumowitz, whom he later married and fathered two daughters. Here is an excerpt of the New York Times article (February 4, 1912, Sunday).
Hailed for Rubel’s business acumen, Arthur Brisbane of the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote in 1925:
Young gentlemen, it pays to save even a LITTLE.
On Monday, Apr. 11, 1927 – Time Magazine labeled Rubel as the Iceman and reported the following about his business practices:
An Iceman. Twenty-one years ago one Samuel Rubel, immigrant from Riga (Latvia), peddled ice in Brooklyn. Now he is president of Rubel Coal & Ice Co. and worth $25,000,000. But withal he is not a nice man, declared sundry petty ice peddlers, when Mr. Rubel tried to freeze them out of business the past year by giving free ice to their customers. For that, the Kings County grand jury last week indicted him, and 28 people sued him for damages. – Time Magazine
From a New York Times obituary (April 30, 1949):
The career of Samuel Rubel verged on the fabulous… His first route was the north side of Watkins Street, in the East New York section. He covered it with a horse and wagon… Up the tenement stoops Mr. Rubel personally carried his cakes of ice and bags of coal. His next move was to a coal platform, with an office on Pitkin Avenue. ‘That year I started selling to other peddlers,’ he said later… In 1925 he bought the majority stock of the Ice Service Corporation and also two other firms… Two years later his firm was merged with the Commonwealth Fuel Company and the Putnam Coal and Ice Company. The new concern, the Rubel Corporation, of which he became head, then had thirty-five coal pickets, forty ice factories and fifty coal and ice stations in the greater city. The same year Mr. Rubel bought the Ebling Brewery then in trouble with prohibition authorities for the manufacture and sale of beer. He planned to convert it into an ice-cream factory. – Wikipedia
According to Walter Grutchfield:
Rubel was still president of Ebling Brewery at the time of his death (undoubtedly it reverted to legal production of beer with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933) and his net worth was estimated at $8,000,000. A 32-room home in Roslyn, Long Island, was destroyed by fire in 1946. Rubel died at a later mansion called Sunset Hall in Ridgefield, Conn. The Rubel contents of Sunset Hall were sold at auction by the Parke-Bernet Galleries, 980 Madison Ave., Oct. 1950. An interesting history of Sunset Hall can be found at acorn-online.net. Apparently it was once considered as a site for the United Nations headquarters.
The life of Samuel Rubel is steeped in the mythology of the American Dream: a penniless immigrant comes to New York to find his fortune – but at what cost? Rubel’s unscrupulous business practices and conflicted and icy personal life is ripe for a torrid Hollywood screenplay. Although Rubel’s story has long been out of the public eye, his legacy continues through his progeny and property. Below is an example of how the quest for the American Dream can still inspire through art and an unwitting lens.
Previous Rubel Coal & Ice postings:
- Read more at Walter Grutchfield’s NYC Signs – 14th To 42nd Street
- Forgotten NY – Street Scenes
- Samuel Rubel – Wikipedia
- Time Magazine Online – On Monday, Apr. 11, 1927
- The Milwaukee Sentinel – Google News Archive
- HAS GIRL WHO SUED JAILED.; Coal Dealer Accuses Employe to Whom He Had Been Engaged. – New York Times (February 4, 1912, Sunday)
- Brooklyn Places – Rubel Coal & Ice – Paintings of Brooklyn by Ivan Koota