Communist spitfire Ida Rosenthal came from a line of Jewish intellectuals in what was then Russia and is now Belarus. She returned from college an outspoken communist revolutionary and with a boyfriend, William. Threatened with jail, the army, or both they fled to the US in 1905 and married in 1906.

Ida, who was 4′ 9″ (145 cm.) bought a Singer sewing machine on credit and worked as a dressmaker. Her business grew slowly.

During WWI, the army stopped the production of corsets because of the metal they used. Instead, women started using bandages to hold their breasts and eventually came up with a flat-chested look, the flapper that was popular in the 1920s. Ida did not like the look and came up with an invention so that women could wear her dresses and show their figures without a corset, the bra.

She initially sold bras only as part of a dress. Women started asking to buy them separately and she obliged, selling them for $1 each. The business grew. She teamed with Broadway legend Enid Bissett, leveraging Bissett’s popularity to increase prices for dresses and raise awareness of bras.

Her company, Maidenform, advertised heavily, believing that brand strength would keep away competitors. During WWII, the army ordered bras for all women in the military. After the war, the business busted out. Ida, the tiny outspoken communist, somehow transformed into an American industrialist and created an enormous business that exists to this day.

Maidenform, run by Rosenthal’s offspring, went public in 2005 with a valuation of $350 million and was taken private, and sold, to Haines in July 2013, for $575 million.

Image result for early maidenform commercials

Blue Jeans

Blue jeans are fun. The once entirely functional pants evolved to represent a lifestyle. When sold as functional work pants, Levi’s did OK. When sold on emotion sales mushroomed.


Levi Loeb immigrated from Germany to the US and changed his name to Strauss, which sounded more American.

In Germany, Jews were forbidden from owning land so were forced to act as peddlers, as merchants.

In 1872, tailor Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes in Riga) created a new type of work pants using heavy cotton and rivets. They became especially popular with miners.

He asked his cloth supplier, San Francisco based Levi Strauss, to fund him and offered to file a joint patent. The riveted jeans continued to grow in popularity. David worked for Strauss, supervising their factory, until his retirement.

Levi Strauss

Levi Strauss & Co. remained a small family-owned business, with 15 salesmen and US-based factories, until after WWII. Then the denim pants caught on and Levi’s grew quickly.

Levi’s descendants took the company public in 1971, retaining 40 percent of the shares, purchased it back in a leveraged buyout in 1985 for $1.1 billion, then took it public again in 2019. As of 2019, Levi Strauss recognized $5.8B of worldwide revenue.

“My happiness lies in my routine work… I do not think large fortunes cause happiness to their owners, for immediately those who possess them become slaves to their wealth. They must devote their lives to caring for their possessions. I don’t think money brings friends to its owner. In fact, often the result is quite contrary.”

Levi Strauss

The 1875 Montgomery Ward catalog contained five entries for blue and brown denim, based on quality, with prices from 10.5 cents to 23 cents per yard.