Estée Lauder, the world-famous American businesswoman of Hungarian ancestry, was born on this date, 1 July, in 1908 in New York City, New York in the United States. Her parents, Max Mentzer and Rose Schotz, were Jewish-Hungarian immigrants who came to the US in 1898. She is best known for her multinational cosmetics company bearing her name, which she founded with her husband in 1946, and which is worth tens of billions of dollars today.
Estée Lauder’s name given at birth was Josephine Esther Mentzer, but ended up going by the Hungarian diminutive form of her middle name, Eszti, in honour of her mother’s favourite aunt. Later in life, once she got into the perfume business, she chose to write it with an s and two e’s, while also adding an accent mark over the first e to appear French. She had no connection to the country of France, but she knew that French brands have a good track record in the fashion and beauty industry. Another clever fib she often told to build her image was that she came from European nobility—however, that claim was eventually refuted in her lifetime, by journalist and author Lee Israel in the 1980s.
Her last name, Lauder, is her husband Joseph Lauder’s, who was originally named Lauter. The two got married in 1930, when Estée was only 22, but got divorced in 1939 as she felt she was missing out on life by tying the knot too young. However, she soon realised that she had had the ‘sweetest husband in the world’ after all, thus the two remarried in 1942, and stayed together until Joseph’s death in 1983. The widowed Estée never married again.
Today, many public schools bear the Lauder name in places like Prague, Vienna, Sofia, Tallinn, and Budapest as well.
Her family foundation established these schools for the benefit of the local Jewish communities, starting in the 1990s.
However, that name carries the most weight in the cosmetics industry.
The Colossal Success of the Estée Lauder Cosmetics Company
The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. is a multinational cosmetics holding company. It was founded in 1946 by Estée herself and her husband, and is in operation and thriving to this day. The company went public in 1995 and it is still publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
With a current market cap of around $70 billion, it is the second largest cosmetics company in the world. It is also included in the S&P 500 index.
The first product by the Lauder company that achieved great national success was the Youth-Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. It came out in 1953. You can still buy the Estée Lauder Youth-Dew fragrance in an eau de parfum form to this day.
In 1995, Estée handed over the running of the company to one of her two sons, Leonard. Leonard, who started at the company by packaging products for $0.25 an hour, managed to successfully expand the operation, building on her mother’s achievements. In 2020, he was interviewed on the long-running American news magazine 60 Minutes on CBS.
Her other son, Ronald, also did quite well for himself. Although he did not take part in the family business, he made a career in politics. He served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration in 1984; as well as the US Ambassador to Austria between 1986 and 1987.
Sadly, the legendary cosmetics businesswoman Estée Lauder was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease late in her life. She eventually passed away on 24 April 2004 at age 95. She now rests next to her beloved husband in the Beth-El Jewish Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey.