Of all the lifestyle celebrities who have shaped American culture over the past 50 years, few have become as iconic or had their advice and example as widely followed as Martha Stewart. Known as a media mogul, self-made billionaire, and “diva of domesticity,” Stewart’s long career of making homespun elegance accessible to everyday people has made her name synonymous with the picture-perfect home.
Stewart was born to a Polish immigrant family in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1941 and learned the traditional skills of homemaking and entertaining from an early age. After graduating from Barnard College and working as a stockbroker for several years, she began a catering business with a friend in Connecticut. After the partners split in 1977, Stewart took the business solo and started a cookshop selling her homemade products and those of other local cooks.
Stewart soon decided to take her expertise directly to the public. Her first cookbook, Entertaining, published in 1982, combined her insights and recipes from years of event planning and catering experience with high production values and gorgeous photographs of the finished products, setting the standard for her subsequent books and later magazines. The domestic manual was a hit, with over 500,000 copies sold, and catapulted Stewart to nationwide fame. Following this success, she continued to build her lifestyle-media empire with subsequent books, branded home furnishings, and seminars at her estate in Connecticut.
Following a public television broadcast special in 1986, Stewart’s next major success in the lifestyle and cookery world came with the introduction of Martha Stewart Living magazine in 1990. Unlike similar magazines, Stewart’s not only featured recipes and instructions explaining how to replicate her iconic dishes, but also provided information about cultivating and using the ingredients themselves. Additionally, the elaborate decorations and meal presentations featured in her Marley Spoon and cookbooks not only dazzled readers but set trends that persist to this day, not least including sales of her lines of housewares.
Stewart’s brand continued to grow in 1996 with the launch of Martha Stewart Living, followed by Living with Martha Stewart in 1997. She also rolled out another magazine, Everyday Food, in 2003. However, that same year, Stewart was indicted in connection with allegations of insider trading. After serving a brief prison sentence in 2005, she swiftly returned to the spotlight with a radio show and website, as well as more television appearances and further publications.
Currently, Stewart continues to set the standard of modern domesticity while leveraging her powerful personal brand to promote important causes such as sustainable agriculture. To date, she has published more than seventy books and coauthored more on cooking, entertaining, decorating, cleaning, and organizing, and her flagship magazine continues to release new issues monthly. Through it all, though, her goal has been to make catering-quality dishes and elegant decorations accessible to the public. She aims not merely to instruct her audience but to exemplify perfection in the arts of daily living and empower them to carry on her tradition of informed, innovative, and happy home cooking.