Josephine Mentzer was born on July 1, 1906 to Max Mentzer, a prosperous Corona hardware store owner, and Rose Schotz, an immigrant from Hungary. Josephine was her mother’s sixth child; the elder five were from Rose’s first marriage. The family lived above her father’s hardware store at 106-29 Corona Ave. in Corona.
Beginning early in her life, Josephine went by the nickname Estée. She married Joseph Lauter, a silk merchant, in January 1930 and they lived above the hardware store.
The two divorced in 1939, after which Estée moved to Florida, but remarried in 1942. She later claimed she thought she was missing out on life by marrying so young, but realized she “had the sweetest husband in the world.” That year, she legally changed her name to Estée, and they both changed their last name from Lauter to Lauder.
The couple left Queens and moved to Manhattan, where she worked helping her uncle, a chemist at New Way Laboratories, working with creams and lotions. In 1953, she introduced her first fragrance, “Youth Dew,” a bath oil that doubled as a perfume, which sold 50,000 bottles in its first year. Her invention grew into the cosmetics empire Estée Lauder.
Estée passed away in April 2004, two months shy of her 98th birthday. Her two sons, Leonard and Ronald, continue to keep their mother’s business alive today.