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.