Local Obituaries

Ben Jacobstein, founded landmark orange juice and contact lens companies in Miami, dies at 92

FROM OJ TO EYEBALLS: Ben Jacobstein co-founded a company that shipped Orange Blossom orange juice from South Florida to New York after World War II. He then shifted his talents to ophthalmology and co-founded a contact lens clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami.
FROM OJ TO EYEBALLS: Ben Jacobstein co-founded a company that shipped Orange Blossom orange juice from South Florida to New York after World War II. He then shifted his talents to ophthalmology and co-founded a contact lens clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Courtesy of the Jacobstein family

Before the familiar Tropicana lined grocery store shelves, Ben Jacobstein and his cousin Alan Benjamin gave South Floridians much of their daily dose of Vitamin C.

That’s because the Jacobsteins, with partners, founded the Florida Juice Co. in 1948 after World War II, reportedly the first such company to package and sell fresh orange juice in the nation.

Marketed under the Orange Blossom label, the duo’s fresh juice and fruit salad cups were familiar treats for school kids in the region for decades. The company supplied the juice cartons and fruit jars to local schools and supermarkets and shipped in tank cars to New York. Florida Juice also offered home delivery in that pre-Amazon world.

Ben Jacobstein, a businessman who went from OJ sales to co-founding a contact lens clinic at Bascom Palmer, died Dec. 8 at 92 in Coral Gables, his home for more than 65 years. His early work left an impression on generations.

From the Memories of Old Miami and Dade County, Florida website: “Does anyone remember: Orange Blossom orange juice? They had a place in the city of Miami, down near the Miami garment district, and when you went by there you could smell orange juice in the air and it was heavenly, especially on a cold winter day! And their products were really good. We got their orange juice and fruit salad, in the jar, all the time, back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Another memory of old Miami!”

Jacobstein, born in Louisville, Kentucky, studied business at the University of Louisville but left school to serve with the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war. He completed the B29 Flight Engineer Program just as the war ended.

Soon, he had a sweet idea for his adopted South Florida home: orange juice. Florida Juice, in its heyday, boasted some 250 employees. The product was named Orange Blossom for Benjamin’s wife, Blossom, and Jacobstein served as the company’s president. The business was sold to Foremost Dairies by 1957 and Jacobstein, for the next few years, served as general manager.

Daughters Diane and Amy recall a man who had “dogged persistence, infinite patience and an endless capacity for creative problem solving.”

They remember the look that would come over their father’s face when faced with an angry opponent. First, a smile. A measured voice. The zinger.

“You have the right to be wrong,” he’d reply. The response was often disarming.

Jacobstein, who raised three children with Helen Jacobstein, his wife of 67 years, would need that approach in those less enlightened times. Florida Juice Co. was housed at 2700 NW Second Ave. in what is now the Wynwood arts district. But in those days his family remembers an era of separate bathrooms and water fountains. Jacobstein, who promoted a black foreman who supervised both black and white employees, would have none of that nonsense. He integrated the bathrooms and fountains.

“Doing this seems so obvious now, but he was in violation of old Jim Crow laws, and his business was actually vandalized and threatened due to these practices,” his son Neil Jacobstein said in a eulogy.

Still, “It was not an easy business buying and processing fresh fruit that would freeze in the winter. My dad was always concerned about winter weather in Florida,” his son said.

So in 1960, Jacobstein founded the Paris Optical on LeJeune Road and South Dixie Highway with partner, Dr. Murray Miller. Initially, the company imported eyeglass frames but, within a few years, Jacobstein, by now a corneal lens technician, changed the company name to Paris Contact Lens Laboratory and manufactured hard and soft contact lenses.

Jacobstein and Miller also founded the Contact Lens Clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami.

By 1984, Jacobstein’s small Gables company, Scientific Technology, had developed a bifocal for the soft contact lens that could be adjusted by its wearer through the blink of an eye, he said in a 1984 Miami Herald story. Optical manufacturer Bausch & Lomb acquired the rights to manufacture and sell the lens internationally. Jacobstein’s company received an undisclosed “cash payment” for granting the license and a “small royalty” for each lens sold, the Herald reported.

By 1990, Jacobstein retired. Travel, an early love for computers — he got his first IBM PC in 1981 and delighted in teaching his friends how to use the machines — and his natural wit and kindness were well known. For years, the subscription department at National Geographic sent the magazine to the DAN Jacobstein residence, named for the children: Diane, Amy and Neil.

A decade or so ago, Jacobstein faced spleen surgery. He might not survive, doctors said. His sense of humor did, however. “Your mom and I planned on going to a resort for our anniversary,” he announced to the family over a dinner that should have been solemn. “But we ended up going to the Mayo Clinic instead, which I suppose is a last resort.”

In addition to his wife and children, Jacobstein is survived by four grandchildren and a great-grandson. Services were held. Donations can be made to Feeding South Florida.

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