August 3, 1941: Martha Stewart Was Born and Became the First Female Self-Made Billionaire in the U.S.

Martha Stewart
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    August 3, 1941: Martha Stewart Was Born and Became the First Female Self-Made Billionaire in the U.S.

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      Sari Rosenberg

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      August 3, 1941: Martha Stewart Was Born and Became the First Female Self-Made Billionaire in the U.S.

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      February 24, 2020

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      A+E Networks

On August 3, 1941, Martha Stewart was born in Jersey City, NJ. She grew up to build her multimedia empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, from scratch. The domestic-arts guru ranks as one of the most influential women of the twenty-first century. To this day, Stewart is often synonymous with good taste. Lately, the queen of domesticity is known for her surprising BFF-status and collaboration with rapper Snoop Dogg.

The second of six children, Stewart grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Nutley, NJ. As a young girl, Stewart’s mother and grandmother taught her many of the domestic skills that would become the basis of her global brand. A natural beauty, she began modeling at 13 years old. At 15 years old, she appeared in a television commercial for Unilever. While at Barnard College, Stewart supplemented her scholarship money with modeling gigs, even appearing in a Chanel campaign. However, Stewart was not just a pretty face. Stewart graduated from Barnard in 1962 with a double major in history and architectural history. A year previously, she married Andrew Stewart, who became a prominent figure in the publishing world.

Two years after giving birth to her daughter Alexis in 1965, Stewart worked on Wall Street as a stockbroker. In that role, she cultivated her strong business acumen that would come in handy while building her global brand. In 1972, Stewart left her Wall Street job to hone her domestic skills. When her family moved into their newly renovated 19th century Westport, Conn. farmhouse, she was inspired to learn gourmet cooking via Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” In 1976, Stewart created a successful catering business, which became a $1 million enterprise in a decade. In 1982, her first cookbook, “Martha Stewart’s Entertaining,” was a great success. The bestselling book featured delicious recipes and inspiring photos from parties hosted by Stewart.

Throughout the 1980s, Stewart continued releasing many books (to date, she has released over 90 books!) that inspired many to step up their homemaking game. Stewart became the go-to expert for all things domestic, writing articles and appearing on TV shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” By the end of the decade, she had made a name for herself as the quintessential homemaking guru.

The 1990s were especially good to Stewart. In 1990, she launched her wildly popular magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and her lifestyle empire would soon dominate multiple-media fronts, including two magazines, a popular cable television show, a syndicated newspaper column, multiple how-to books, a radio show, and a website. Then, in 1997, she purchased these various ventures and consolidated them into a new company, named Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. On October 19, 1999, Stewart returned to Wall Street to take her company public. She became the first female, self-made billionaire in the United States.

Although her business continued to be successful, Stewart experienced a major setback in 2004. She was sentenced to five months in prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice and lying about a stock sale.

Stewart did not let her prison sentence hold her back. In 2005, Stewart staged a successful comeback. She was also refreshingly candid about the less-than-perfect moment. Stewart once said, “So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic.” As she celebrates her 77th birthday, we thank Stewart for always being a graceful and stylish role model, even when the pie isn’t perfect.

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