Biographies, 1940s–1970s

Ruth Handler, 1916–2002

Ruth Handler, 1916–2002

Barbie Mama

Observing her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls, Handler had the idea that dolls could be styled as adults. In 1959, she convinced her husband, co-owner of Mattel, to develop an adult fashion doll, Barbie. TV marketing made it the world’s best-selling toy.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Marlowe family, 1961

Marlowe family, 1961

Poverty Victims

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” citing the abysmal conditions of Appalachian families. Lady Bird Johnson selected images of the family of Thomas Marlowe family to help publicize the campaign. Congress soon passed legislation that led to Head Start, Job Corps, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Courtesy of Jack Corn Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives

Sam B. Fuller and Joe Dudley Sr., 1905–1988 and 1937–

Sam B. Fuller and Joe Dudley Sr., 1905–1988 and 1937–

Competitors and Collaborators

Sam Fuller and Joe Dudley were African American entrepreneurs who each got their start selling door-to-door. Fuller, the son of sharecroppers, moved to Chicago, where he established one of the largest black-owned businesses in America. “Wherever there is capitalism,” Fuller said, “there is freedom.” Dudley started out working for Fuller in order to pay for college. He subsequently perfected many of the Fuller products and in 1984 acquired his mentor’s company.

Courtesy of Dudley Q Archives

Forrest Mars Sr., 1904–1999

Forrest Mars Sr., 1904–1999

Global Entrepreneur

Learning from his father but charting his own course, Forrest Mars built an even more successful chocolate candy business centered on a new product, M&Ms. To improve management of the growing company, he established the basis for an enduring set of five principles: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom.

Compliments of Mars, Inc.

Raoul A. Cortez, 1905–1971

Raoul A. Cortez, 1905–1971

La Voz Mexicana

Cortez thought media should serve the community and promote the common good. After working in a Spanish-language newspaper, he founded a radio station, which became the voice of the Spanish-speaking community in San Antonio. In 1955, he opened KCOR-TV, expanding his broadcasting business and community-centered media vision to television.

Courtesy of Guillermo Nicolas

H. Joseph Gerber, 1924–1996

H. Joseph Gerber, 1924–1996

Charismatic Inventor

Gerber was a young man in a hurry. He talked his way out of Nazi-occupied Austria. In America, he worked while finishing school. Looking for a shortcut for his homework, he took the elastic from his pajamas and made a mechanical calculator—the first of hundreds of inventions.

Courtesy of the family of H. Joseph Gerber and Gerber Scientific, Inc.

Gerber variable scale, about 1946

Pajama band, 1945

Pajama band, 1945

Lent by the Gerber family

Muriel Siebert, 1928–2013

Muriel Siebert, 1928–2013

1 among 1,365

Buying a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1967, Siebert was the only woman among 1,365 men. She paid more for her seat than men and faced a hostile environment. She later established Muriel Siebert & Company and served as Superintendent of Banking for New York State.

Courtesy of AP Images

Jean Nidetch, 1923–2015

Jean Nidetch, 1923–2015

Weight Watcher

Overweight since childhood, Nidetch sought help from an obesity clinic, but it made her uncomfortable. She gathered friends to help her diet, lost 72 pounds, and gained a following. She co-founded Weight Watchers in 1963, a franchise model that spread quickly. Her advice: “Drop the forks—you are in control.”

Weight Watchers scale, 1968

Cesar Chavez, 1927–1993

Cesar Chavez, 1927–1993

Labor Legend

United Farm Workers co-founder Chavez never forgot his roots. His father’s short-handled hoe reminded him of migrants’ backbreaking daily struggles. Chavez organized workers thought to be unorganizable. By using hunger strikes and the call of “Sí, se puede,” he galvanized public support for the plight of farm workers.

Copyright © 1979. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission. Photo by Steve Fontanini

Norman Borlaug, 1914–2009

Norman Borlaug, 1914–2009

Famine Fighter

Trained as a plant scientist, Borlaug’s work kicked off the “Green Revolution,” which reduced hunger across the globe. He designed, bred, and developed varieties of wheat, rice, and corn that produced much higher yields per acre. His path-breaking work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) photo archives

Sellers of Beauty

Until the early 1900s, few American women used cosmetics daily. Consumption increased as women had more disposable income, the freedom to spend it, and examples of Hollywood actresses to follow. In the 1800s, most cosmetics and fragrances came from France, but now American entrepreneurs capitalized on a growing U.S. market.

Elizabeth Arden, 1884–1966

Elizabeth Arden, 1884–1966

Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham, believed in the power of makeovers, beginning with her name. Arden convinced women that wearing makeup was socially acceptable. Her products and marketing reinforced an aura of exclusivity and quality, and made her one of the world’s wealthiest women.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Estée Lauder, 1906–2004

Estée Lauder, 1906–2004

Esther (later Estée) refined her uncle’s recipes for face creams and established her company in 1946. She was a marketing pioneer. In upscale stores, she offered free demos and bonus gifts with purchases. But her mass-marketed “Youth Dew” fragrance made the company famous.

"I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard."

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Hazel Bishop, 1906–1998

Hazel Bishop, 1906–1998

Bishop developed her cosmetic line after working as an industrial chemist. Experimenting with dyes at Columbia University’s dermatology lab, she invented a popular long-lasting smudgeless lipstick. She began selling “Hazel Bishop” lipstick in 1950, but four years later lost the company in a stockholder takeover.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Mary Kay Ash, 1918–2001

Mary Kay Ash, 1918–2001

After being passed over for promotions in favor of men in several companies, Ash developed a business plan in which women could help other women be successful. Her direct-sales cosmetic company, established in 1963, was known for its generosity to its sales force. Successful “consultants” got pink Cadillacs.

Courtesy of Mary Kay Foundation. Photo by Francesco Scavullo.

Organizational Gurus

As businesses grew more complex, a new breed of professionals—industrial managers and consultants—tried to use scientific principles to improve the organization and efficiency of both factory and office.

Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, 1878–1972

Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, 1878–1972

Psychologist, engineer, and mother of 12, Gilbreth developed the field of scientific management, seeking “the one best way.” She and her husband Frank did time-motion studies in factories to improve efficiency and relieve worker fatigue. She also redesigned the layout of home kitchens, and worked with large companies on office management.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives

William Whyte, 1917–1999

William Whyte, 1917–1999

Editor of Fortune magazine, Whyte claimed that growing bureaucracies of big business had stamped out entrepreneurial vigor. He especially targeted middle managers, who he worried only strived for conformity and stability. Whyte encouraged Americans to buck the organizational mindset to reinvigorate business.

Courtesy of Alexandra Whyte

Peter Drucker, 1909–2005

Peter Drucker, 1909–2005

Drucker was known as the “man who invented management” for his prolific writing and advice on the subject. He predicted the shift from industrial production to an information society; developed the idea of a professional manager, who could run any business; and coined the term “knowledge worker.”

Courtesy of The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University

Georges Doriot, 1899–1987

Georges Doriot, 1899–1987

In 1946, Doriot founded American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC), one of the first venture capital firms in the United States. Through his positions at Harvard Business School and at ARDC, he promoted start-up companies and fledgling firms by financing high-risk ventures in exchange for a percentage of future revenue.

Courtesy of Harvard University, Baker Library, Harvard Business School