Although most credit Madam C.J. Walker as America’s first Black millionairess, some historians say otherwise. Inventor and philanthropist Annie Malone has been named as the true first millionaire after inventing a hair care product company.
Born Annie Minerva Turnbo on August 9, 1869 to escaped slave parents, Malone grew up in southern Illinois as one of 11 children. Orphaned at a young age, Malone attended school in Peoria but later dropped out.
Malone’s interest in chemistry and hairdressing became a serious hobby, and she practiced on her sister’s hair. She also had an aunt who was a herbalist, and she studied her techniques.
Black women then were using goose fat and other harsh products on their hair. Just before the 20th Century, Malone developed an improved hair straightening solution.
Naming the product the “Great Wonderful Hair Grower,” Malone moved to St. Louis in 1902 and began selling it door to door. Armed with salespersons and assistants, the product took off.
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. stated in a piece that Walker was actually a saleswoman for Malone. Malone attracted skeptics to her products by offering free treatments. The product sold so well that Malone was able to open a store in 1904.