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Miss Elizabeth Arden established the American beauty industry a century ago

Elizabeth Arden was born on 31 December 1884, in Ontario, Canada. She was the fifth child of William Graham and Susan Tadd. Her birth name was Florence Nightingale Graham.

She was raised in a poor family and as a teenager was often forced to work different jobs like cashier, stenographer, and dental assistant in order to support her large family. This didn’t give her a chance to finish high school.


One of her brothers lived in New York, where she moved in 1908 after dropping out of a nursing school. In New York, she quickly managed to find a clerical job at Squibb Pharmaceutical Company.

Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden

She worked as a bookkeeper; she was responsible for writing the records of purchases, sales, receipts, and payments. She often visited the laboratories of the company and learned about skincare. As she was fascinated with them, she decided to make her own small laboratory where she could test out her own ideas for beauty products.

After quitting her job at the pharmaceutical company, Graham was hired by Eleanor Adair, the owner of a beauty salon located on Fifth Avenue. This salon was specialized in facial massages with simple oils and creams. Here, Graham learned how to perform facial massages and gained valuable experience in the beauty culture field.

One year later, in 1910, Graham formed a partnership with Elizabeth Hubbard and opened her own salon on Fifth Avenue. After one year, they broke their partnership and Graham continued to work on her own and became the sole owner.

On the window of the salon, the name of Elizabeth Hubbard was painted with golden letters. Graham decided to keep the first name and add Arden to it. From this, she adopted the name ‘Elizabeth Arden’ for her business and for herself. The huge red door with a brass nameplate became her trademark.

Elizabeth Arden (New York). Photo Credit
Elizabeth Arden (New York). Photo Credit

Elizabeth was the first to produce light, fluffy facial creams, which became an instant success. She employed chemists and together they produced hundreds of cosmetic products including foundation creams, mascaras, rouges, fragranced lotions and powders, perfumes, and lipsticks. In 1912, she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. She supplied the suffragettes with red lipsticks, which became a symbol of female emancipation.

She was the first to develop the concept of “total beauty”. Her primary idea was to include milliners, professional hairdressers, and clothing shops in her salon. In addition, she was the first to introduce eye makeup in the United States.

After opening new salons in Washington and Boston, she expanded her business into Europe. Namely, she opened a spa in Paris in 1922, and her company soon became one of the first truly global brands. Soon she opened many salons throughout America and by 1957 there were 150 Elizabeth Arden franchises.


The grave of Elizabeth Arden in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
The grave of Elizabeth Arden in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Sales grew rapidly and Elizabeth became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Her business was a success. In 1946, she became the first woman on the cover of Time magazine.

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Elizabeth died in 1966 at the age of 87. A few years after her death, the company was sold for $38 million to Eli Lilly and still exists today.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News