The History of Estee Lauder

By Nicole Gordon

Estee Lauder is a classic story of a first-generation American who turns her dream into a successful business and rises from poverty. Estee Lauder to this day is one of the most successful, self-made women.

An American Dream is Born

Josephine Esther Mentzer, later known as Estee Lauder, was born in New York to Hungarian immigrant parents who owned a hardware store in Queens, which they lived above. Her real age was concealed for most of her life, but it is believed that she was born in 1908.

Developing the Dream

Esther worked with her uncle, a chemist/skin specialist, who would often sell his products to pharmacists, and developed a passion for his products. She also worked in a department store run by her stepsister-in-law, Freida, and Freida's sister, Fannie. There is no doubt these two experiences helped influence Estee.

Esther Becomes Estee

Why Josephine Esther Metzner became Estee Lauder no one really knows. In 1927, she met her first husband, Joseph Lauter. At this time she was going by the name "Estelle." Later on, her marriage ended and she left for Florida with her sons and a new name, "Estee Lauder."

Business Begins and Booms

While in Florida, Estee began selling and demonstrating her products door-to-door. The idea of opening her own stores did not appeal to her, but in 1948 she convinced Saks Fifth Avenue to give her counter space, which later led to space at Neiman Marcus and other fine retail stores.

From Makeup to Fragrance

In 1953, Lauder introduced her first fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a perfume and sold 50,000 bottles in its first year. Lauder had solidified herself as a beauty entrepreneur and business woman. In fact, even after her passing, her son Leonard ran the company and acquired even more, now owning Mac and Aveda.

Success Lives On

Estee Lauder died in 2004 due to cardiopulmonary arrest, and even in her passing, the brand lives on. No matter her birth name or place, Estee Lauder has made a timeless mark on the beauty industry and has created an American success story.