Died: January 18, 1961 in New York City
Married: Marie "Mary" Brawer
Children: Mrs. Lucy Roberts of Tupper Lake; Adeline; Irving Edelberg (Bud) of Saranac Lake; Myra Fair of Sarasota, Florida; John (Jack), a base safety engineer at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, and later of Lawrenceville, Ga. [One of Sam and Mary's daughters was Mrs. Sol Marder of Trenton, N.J. and one was Mrs. Joseph Aisenstat of New York City, but who was whom is not clear.]
Sam Edelberg, born in Latvia, immigrated to the U.S. in 1902 at age 17 and worked in a Manhattan garment shop owned by Lincoln Jones. Jones developed TB in 1904 and moved to Saranac Lake, taking Mr. Edelberg, 19 years old and speaking no English, with him as a tailor.
Edelberg lived at 7 Academy Street where he learned English from the high school German teacher, who also lived there. Mr. Jones opened a garment shop at 45 Main Street in the Hogan Block. When he died, in 1906, he left his business to Edelberg, who, over time, developed it into Edelberg's Furs. Sam's brother Morris Edelberg was a partner in the fur shop. Sam Edelberg may have been the first Jewish person to settle in Saranac Lake. 2
In 1907, Edelberg married Mary Brawer, also from Latvia; she was a sister of the founders of Brawer Brothers Silk Corporation of Paterson, New Jersey. In 1911, the couple bought what would come to be known as the Sageman Cottage and the Bela Bartok Cottage. Mary established the Cottage as one of the most highly recommended commercial private sanatoria in Saranac Lake, a status it would hold for thirty-seven years.
Sam Edelberg was an active supporter of many good causes, especially the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross. In 1954, he was awarded the silver antelope, the highest honor a volunteer in the scouting movement can receive. 3
Gallos, Philip L., Cure Cottages of Saranac Lake, Historic Saranac Lake, 1985, pp. 81-82. ISBN 0-9615159-0-2
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 19, 1961
Sam Edelberg Collapses, Dies at Brooklyn Rotary
Civic Leader Was Almost 79
Samuel Edelberg, one of Saranac Lake's long time residents and one of its citizens most actively engaged in civic affairs, collapsed and died yesterday at a Rotary Club luncheon held in the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. He had just finished making a few brief remarks as he had done at so many service club luncheons in the past.
He had been visiting a daughter, Mrs. Joseph Aisenstat of New York City, for the past ten days. He would have been 79 tomorrow.
According to the story which he loved to tell, for he felt it was illustrative of opportunity in America, Mr. Edelberg was born in Latvia in 1882 and was forced to leave school at the age of 11 to make way for others in the overcrowded school.
Shortly thereafter, he read an American book that had been translated into his language. This developed in him a longing to travel to the United States and his father agreed to let him go after he had learned the trade of furrier and tailor.
Traveling steerage, he reached America in 1902 and found employment in New York City. There he came upon an advertisement for another position in Cincinnati and set out for that city. Some mix-up however, perhaps his own accent as he always suggested, brought him to Saranac Lake. Impressed by the helpfulness of people here to him, a lost, bewildered young man, he decided to stay.
After working for several years for a local tailor, he opened his own fur business. He often said his dealings with trappers and farmers, displaying in summer resorts, selling to metropolitan people and in town to business, professional and working people, gave him an education.
A high point in his life was the granting of his American citizen papers in 1910.
In 1927 he helped organize the Adirondack Council, Boy Scouts of America and from 1928 to 193[?] served as scout commissioner and a member of the executive board. Since 1930 he served as the Council's representative to the National Council.
In 1954 he was awarded the silver antelope, the highest award a volunteer in the Scouting movement can receive. At that time it was said, "His energetic interest has taken him on speaking tours on behalf of Scouting throughout Northern New York, New England and Canada. He is a Scouting pioneer and a devoted friend of boys."
For the last three years Mr. Edelberg served as chairman of the board of the Saranac Lake Chapter of the Red Cross, which speaks of his interest and active participation in this organization's work. He also served on its executive board for more than ten years.
In 1957 he and Mrs. Edelberg, the former Mary Brawer of Paterson, N.J., celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. In their honor the Torah of the Jewish Community Center was hung with a silver breastplate. In remarks preceding the presentation, Rabbi Henry Gutman said the Edelbergs' long years of service and leadership in the community set a goal to strive for. In accepting it, Mr. Edelberg said they had been the first Jewish family to settle in Saranac Lake.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Edelberg is survived by three daughters, Mrs. Lucy Roberts of Tupper Lake, Mrs. Sol Marder of Trenton, N.J. and Mrs. Joseph Aisenstat of New York City; two sons, Irving of Saranac Lake and John, a base safety engineer at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base; a brother, Morris, and nine grandchildren.
Family funeral services will be held in Paterson at 1 p.m. tomorrow although the place is not known at this time. It is suggested that contributions be made to the Boy Scouts or the Red Cross.
This is extracted from the text of a speech Edelberg gave at the request of a Mrs. Porter (possibly Mrs. Howard Finger Porter) titled "Fur Trade in the North American Continent." The first third of the speech covered a general history of the fur trade. Courtesy of Susan Edelberg Donnelly.
At the turn of this century, when I settled in Saranac Lake in 1904, the fur business was rather slow; mink was worth from three to four dollars, red fox from two to three dollars, raccoon from 50 cents to one dollar, muskrat, 25 cents to 35 cents, fisher eight to ten dollars, the same for otter. Weasels were 25 cents, skunk 50 cents to a dollar, and on beaver the season was closed, which I will explain later.
In 1914, when the First World War began, raw furs from Russia and most of the European Continent stopped coming to the United States, with the result that the American peltries began going up in price, so much so that by 1918, '19, and '20, mink was bringing $25.00 to $35.00 each, red fox $20.00 to $35.00, raccoon, $6.00 to $10.00. Muskrat was as high as $5.00, skunk $3.00 to $7.00, Fisher was as high as $75.00, otter up to $35.00, weasel up to $3.00, and on beaver the season was still closed.
From 1916 to about 1926 I traveled through the Adirondack region, and at times inside of the Canadian border, among the trappers during the trapping season, and bought as much raw furs as my capital would allow me. On these trips I had a helper with me who was an experienced Adirondack guide by the name of Lester Hathaway. I had a Nash car, and we made the rounds rather fast, in order to get ahead of the many other fur buyers from New York City and other parts of the State, who were after the furs due to the prevailing high prices. Many of these fur agents, when they reached the Adirondack towns and hamlets, and learned that Edelberg had already been there, and bought most of the furs from the trappers and small collectors, they began calling and coming to me in Saranac Lake, and what pelts I could not use for my retail business, I used to sell to them at a fair profit. Then out again I was in the woods for more pelts.
In those years our Adirondack highways, and especially the narrow side roads in the mountains were not so well taken care of during the winter months as they are now. We carried shovels, for we had to shovel ourselves out often from snowdrifts. We also had to carry hatchets - not for the Indians, but we got caught in icy, rutted roads, and in order to pass or let another car pass by, we had to chop ourselves out. Many a time we had to leave our car during our travels, due to some impassable snow drifted roads, then hire a sled with a team of horses.
One time we were traveling through the Cascades towards Keene; the roads were so badly drifted that it was impossible to go through it, even with a team of horses, so we got on the frozen Cascade Lake. The wind was blowing very strong, so much so that our sleigh began going sideways and turning in a circle on the smooth, shiny ice; the horses could hardly hold themselves on their feet. We had to stop for a while until the wind let down, and got off the lake on the further end. We used to travel for weeks at a time in all sorts of weather, rain and sleet, blizzards or 20-35 below zero. Sometimes we got stuck at a trapper's home, and stayed with his family overnight. Once I stayed overnight in the Newcomb region, in a certain roadhouse, where many of the trappers of that neighborhood used to come together for their evening's refreshments. Although it was during the Prohibition Era, yet they were able to get something, and swap humorous stories.
As I was buying their furs, one fellow said to me: "Hey, how much do you pay for foxes as they run? (meaning small, medium and large sizes). I said: "How many have you?" He replied, "Oh, about a couple dozen." At that time the price for fox pelts was up to about $25.00. I told him that I would give him a flat price of $18.00. He accepted my offer, and promised to bring the foxes the next day, to that roadhouse. He did show up the following morning, but without the pelts. When I asked him where the foxes were, he looked at me with a grin, and said, "I sold them to you as they run, and they are still running. As soon as I catch them you can have them!"
One day I was passing through a hamlet near Port Henry. I saw a man chopping wood near his house. I stopped and asked him whether he had any furs to sell. He said he had a muskrat, but that it wasn't skinned. I said: "How much do you want for it?" and in turn he wanted to know how much I would pay. At that time the price for Northern muskrat was about $4.00. I said to him, "It may cost me close to a dollar to have it skinned, stretched and dried, so I will give you $3.00. He looked at me somewhat bewildered, and after a while he stammered out, "I will take it", and when I gave him three single dollar bills, he looked at them, surprised, turned them back and forth to assure himself as to whether they were genuine, for he did not know the value of the fur. Had I offered him 50 cents he would have accepted.
And now I want to say something about the busy beaver. Few animals have captured the imagination, and lined the pocketbooks, as has the beaver. No species has been more ruthlessly exploited over most of its range, than has the trappers' "black gold." Once eliminated from an area, its chances for reintroduction were slight.
That beavers in the last forty years have become so abundant in thickly settled New York State as to present an irritating nuisance problem may seem hard to believe. Radford in 1907 estimated New York's population of beavers at the time of the commencement of the white man's settlement as being several million. He quotes from an old Dutch writer to prove that the Province of New Netherlands, in 1671, furnished fully 80,000 beavers a year. Fort Orange, now Albany, N.Y., was built for and out of black gold profits.
From this original abundance indiscriminate trapping so reduced beaver abundance that by 1800 scarcely 5,000 beavers were reported to be found in all the Adirondack wilderness. Another hundred years and the number had shrunk to a pitiful 15 survivors. Alarmed, laws were passed offering this remnant rigid protection. To replace what the trap had taken, about 20 wild-trapped in Canada, were liberated in the Adirondacks between 1901 and 1906. In 1907, 17 yellow beavers were obtained from Yellowstone Park. All but three survived the trip, and were loosed in the same region. The results were immediate and satisfying.
By 1906 trappers reported 75 beavers, and in 1907, 100. By 1912 so numerous had they become in certain localities that complaints of beaver damage became common. Three years later the number of beavers resident in the Adirondacks was conservatively placed at 115,000. The trappers, sensing the forthcoming harvest, were delighted, and conservationists everywhere pointed with pride to the results. By 1920 the Conservation Department was literally besieged with damage complaints, which culminated in 1924 and 1925 in open seasons. Thus in a short space of 24 years, and given little help except a start and protection from men, the beavers staged such a remarkable comeback as to justify two consecutive open seasons in which 6,000 were trapped. During these beaver trapping seasons the floor of my retail shop in Saranac Lake was piled up with several hundred beaver pelts, showing them to the public, conservation wardens and others interested. Most of the trappers knew how to take proper care of the skins, removing every bit of meat and fat, and to stretch them in a round or oval shape for drying, for in this way they were entitled to get the full market price for their pelts, which were bringing from $10.00 to $35 per skin, according to size. However, many inexperienced trappers left a certain amount of meat and fat on the hides, which spoiled part of their skins, and therefore received prices for second or third quality pelts.
In the towns where I was buying from trappers and collectors, I inserted advertisements of advice in their local newspapers as to how to take care of their beaver pelts, in order for them to receive the full market value. Within a few short seasons it was gratifying to note that about 95 per cent of the beaver skins were prepared in first class condition.
The price for beaver skins in 1946 went up as high as $1.00 per inch. Trappers were receiving from $40.00 to $85.00 per skin; at the present time they are about half of that price.
I also had some very pleasant and interesting experiences in my retail fur business. In 1914 the management of the Lake Placid Club granted me the exclusive privilege to display my furs to their guests. Also the late Mrs. Chase at Loon Lake, Harrington Mills at Saranac Inn, Paul Smith at Paul Smiths, George Stevens at the Stevens House, and at Whiteface Inn, where I enjoyed a very exclusive clientele, many of whom I am still serving.
I would like to mention a few of the pleasant, and some humorous instances during my displays at the places mentioned. When Dr. Melville Dewey of the Lake Placid Club married his second wife, who was Mrs. Beal, he asked me to make her a nice beaver coat, as they were going to Atlantic City the early part of December. I finished and delivered the garment and between Christmas and New Year's when I was displaying at the Club, as they used to have a large crowd of guests during the Holiday Season.
In the morning, when I was getting my display ready, Dr. Dewey approached me with a very stern look on his face, and said in a cold tone, "Edelberg, what did you do to my wife's beaver coat?" Nervously I answered, "Is there anything wrong with the coat?" "Oh, no," he said, "except when I was walking with Mrs. Dewey on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, most everyone who was passing us stopped and gazed, and looked, and turned around at Mrs. Dewey, I thought they were going to kidnap her on account of the coat." I thanked him for the compliment.
The late George Stevens, with his sons Hubert and Paul, for many fall and winter seasons used to go to Canada for hunting and fishing and some trapping, and were bringing back a collection of mink, martin, otter and beaver skins, which they used to sell me. During the summer seasons when I made my displays of finished fur garments at the Stevens House, I purposely saved the skins the Stevens family sold me, had them dressed or tanned, and took them with me. This was rather pleasing to the late George Stevens, and he would bring his friends and guests to show them the skins he personally trapped, and tell them many interesting incidents that occurred on his Canadian trips, and finished by saying how hard he worked in getting these pelts, but that his son Paul used to take the money for it.
Another friendly, humanitarian character was the late Paul Smith, Sr.; in my early years in Saranac Lake, when my limited few dollars did not allow me to risk much on furs, I used to do tailoring. Paul Smith gave me an order for a blue ribbed cheviot double breasted suit of clothes. When he came to try on the coat, which was only basted on canvas without lining, I called him towards a triple mirror, where he could see for himself how the garment fitted, he answered, "Edelberg, while you are making this suit, you are the sole doctor of same, and I don't want to see anything of it until it is completed." There is a lifesize picture of him in the Paul Smiths Power House office in Saranac Lake, with that same suit on him that I have just mentioned.
Another lovely Adirondack character was the late Mrs. Chase, of the Loon Lake House, who extended many business courtesies to me. So was the late Harrington Mills, of Saranac Inn, who let me use the whole casino for my fur displays, and personally helped me make sales to several prominent families. It was a great delight and satisfaction to experience these many pleasant contacts with such well known characters as I have mentioned.
The fur industry in the past 40 to 50 years and up to this date, has spread itself into many hands, many have entered the fur business without being experienced furriers or skin dealers, and the competition has become so keen that it is a matter of the survival of the fittest; besides the fluctuation of prices every few years, makes the fur business to the newcomers a risky investment. Take for instance the years of 1926, '27, and '23, fur prices were unusually high, and when the stock market crash came in the fall season of 1929, the prices on furs dropped suddenly to less than half of their value, causing about 90 per cent of those in the fur industry to go into bankruptcy. I myself was just about hanging on a thread for a few seasons, but the thread was a strong one, and I was lucky to survive.
It may interest you to know that our Government is in the fur business. When in 1867 the United States purchased the territory of Alaska from Russia for seven million dollars, our Government created laws prohibiting, from 1890 to 1907, the taking of fur seals in that territory; otherwise there would not have been any left, as the Russians, Japanese, British and other nationalities were taking them as fast as they could slaughter these seals for the profit in their pelts. Therefore the United States put a stop to it, with its full protection of these seals on the Pribiloff Islands. The records show that up to 1914, the United States received more than fifty million dollars for skins taken in the Pribiloff Islands, and in the past thirty-five years the amount must have more than trebled.
No one who has carefully read the history of the development of the fur trade as it is related by Washington Irving, George Bryce and Captain Chittenden will question the statement that the men who formed and controlled the policies of the companies who laid the foundation of this great commercial enterprise, were not only captains of industry, but empire builders of the highest order.
In conclusion, may I say, that the story of the Furriers is not so full of dramatic interest as the history of the Fur Traders, but they are the men behind the guns, without whose efforts to make furs fashionable, and to stimulate the demand at various times for different species by the creation of new styles, peltries would never have become valuable enough to cause the Fur Traders to leave their homes and risk their lives in their pursuit of their calling.