Martha Stewart was born Martha Kostyra in Jersey City, New Jersey, August 3, 1941 to middle-class polish immigrant parents, Edward “Eddie” Kostyra and Martka Ruszkowski Kostyra. Martha’s mother taught her the common chores of cooking and sewing, while her father taught her about gardening, which was his great passion. Martha’s grandparents had a farm in Illinois, on which she learned how to can and preserve food while visiting.
When Martha Stewart was three, the family moved to the small community of Nutley, New Jersey, a small working-class community located near New York City. At the age of 10 Martha occasionally worked as a babysitter for players from the New York Yankees, including such famous players as Mickey Mantle, Gil McDougald and Yogi Berra as well as organizing birthday parties for Mickey Mantles four sons.
At 13 years old, Martha began modeling for television and print advertisements as well as appearing in several fashion shows. At 15 she was featured in a television commercial for Unilever as well as an advertisement for Tareyton cigarettes…
After graduating High School, Martha attended Barnard College, supplementing her scholarship through her modeling, some of which paid up to $50 which, according to Martha Stewart “was a lot of money at that time”. She originally planned on majoring in chemistry, but switched to art and European History and later took architectural history. It was during this time that she met Andrew Stewart who she married in 1961. She returned to Bernard the following year after her marriage to earn a degree in both European and Architectural history.
Six years after the birth of her daughter, Alexis Stewart, Martha Stewart began working for the boutique firm of Monness, Williams & Sidel as a stockbroker, until 1972 when the family moved to Westport, Connecticut. They purchased an 1805 farmhouse on Turkey Hill Road and began restoring it. The townhouse later became the Studio for the Martha Stewart Living television show.
After moving, Martha started her own catering business in 1976, in the basement of house, with a friend she had met while modeling, Norma Collier. The business was a great success, but then took a turn when Martha and Norma had a falling out. Norma Collier said that Martha was impossible to work with as well as accusing her of taking catering jobs on the side. Stewart bought out Collier’s portion of the catering business and begin successfully operating the catering business by herself.
In 1977 her husband, Andrew Stewart became the president of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., a prominent New York City publisher. He contracted Martha Stewart’s company to cater a book release party for the new York Times Best Seller, “The Secret Book of Gnomes” series (by Wil Hugen and Rien Poortvliet), where she met Alan Mirken, who was the head of Crown Publishing Group.
Mirken was impressed by Martha Stewart’s talents in catering and contracted her to help develop a cookbook that would feature photos from the parties Stewart catered. The resulting book, “Entertaining” was very successful, which prompted Martha Stewart to write more books. During the mid to late 80’s she released several more books through Clarkson Potter publishing, which included “Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook”, “Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres”, “Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook”, to name a few. She also was the author of numerous newspaper and magazine articles during this time as well as appearing on several different television programs. It was also during this time, in 1987 that she separated from her husband, whom she later divorced in 1990.
Shortly after her divorce in 1990, Time Publishing Ventures signed Martha Stewart to develop a new Magazine titled “Martha Stewart Living”, with Stewart acting as editor-in-chief. In 1993 she began airing a half-hour show based on her magazine. The show was so popular that it was quickly expanded to a full hour and later became a daily show. In 1995 she was prominently displayed on the cover of the May Issue of the New York Magazine with the byline ‘The Definitive American Woman of Our Time”.
In 1997 Martha Stewart partnered with Sharon Patrick and secured funding to purchase the Martha Stewart brand, including licensing for all the various television, print and merchandise, consolidating them all into a new company which she named Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. soon grew to include two magazines, a syndicated newspaper article, a cable television show and an internet site as well as several cooking, catering and how-to books. Steward acted as President and CEO and Patrick became the Chief Operating Officer of the new company. Around this time, Martha Steward announced the launching of Martha by Mail, as a companion catalogue site which also includes a direct-to-consumer floral business.
The Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public on October 19, 1999 initially trading at $18 per share and ending at $38 by the end of trading, making Martha Stewart the first female, self-made billionaire in the United States. Martha Stewart holds the majority of stock in her company, with a 96% control of the voting power in the company.
In 2002, it was revealed that Martha Stewart was under investigation for insider trading on the New York Stock Exchange. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Martha Stewart sold all of her almost 4000 shares of ImClone on December 27, 2001 after receiving insider information from Peter Bacanovic, her broker at Merrill Lynch. The day after her unloading the stock, the value fell 16%, after the FDA announced that it would not be approving the company’s new cancer treatment drug. Stewart resigned her position on the board of directors of the New York Stock exchange, October 3, 2002 following a deal made with Douglas Faneuli, an assistant to Bacanovic after having served on the board for just 4 months.
During her trial, in 2004, Prosecutors were able to show that Bacanovic had told Faneuli to share information with Stewart regarding the CEO of ImClone selling all of his shares before the FDA had made their ruling, with the effect of their ruling expected to cause ImClone shares to drastically drop.
The judge dismissed the securities job, In February of 2004, but a jury found her guilty of the other charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements. She was sentenced to five months in a minimum security prison and was fined $30,000. In October 2004, she served the first part of her sentence in the minimum-security facility at Alderson, West Virginia and finished her sentence by serving five months of house arrest at her home in Bedford, New York.
Upon her release from prison, on Amrch 5, 2005, Martha was offered a couple of shows by NBC, a daytime talk show and a spinoff of the popular “The Apprentice” show. The apprentice spin-off failed to attract enough viewers and was soon canceled, but “The Martha Stewart” showed a fair amount of success, until it was moved to the hallmark channel and was canceled in 2012 due to low ratings. Later in the fall of 2012, Martha Stewart launched a new show on PBS called “Martha Stewart’s cooking school”.