Lillian Vernon

Today we’d probably call it a “side hustle.”

Photo by Annie Watt

But that term had not yet been invented in 1951, when Lillian Vernon started a small mail order business from her kitchen table.

At that time she sold personalized purses and belts,targeting young women like her with ads in Seventeen magazine.

Born in Germany, she and her family fled to America in 1933, and she became an American citizen a few years later. As a 24-year-old housewife she started her business like so many do today, to bring in a few extra bucks.

And the business began to grow, eventually becoming one of the nations first and foremost direct mail retailers. You’ve probably gotten a Lillian Vernon catalog in the mail at some point over the years.

I met her in 1996 when Vernon wote a book called An Eye for Winners. So here now, from 1996, LillianVernon.

Lillian Vernon died in 2015. She was 88.

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