Madam C.J. Walker, born as Sarah Breedlove, was an African-American political activist, philanthropist and business-woman who became the first female millionaire ever in the U.S.
Walker was born in 1867 in Delta, Louisiana and Orphaned at the age of just 7-years-old. She was sent to live with her older sister and moved to Mississippi with her family.
During the 1890s, Walker developed a severe dandruff ailment whereby frequent hair loss took place as a result of a scalp disorder. She began experimenting with various home-made remedies and treatments to improve her condition.
Through continuous blending and mingling of different remedial substances, she discovered an accidental material, a tonic that could make hair grow “faster than it had ever fallen out.”
Her husband at that time, Charles J. Walker, was a newspaper sales agent and created enticing advertisements of the product to be displayed on the front and back covers of newspapers.
For further promotion and publicity of the products, Walker and her husband went on township tours to deliver lectures about the significance of the products for scalp treatments as well as showing live demonstration of the “Walker Method”: a method Walker used for brushing hair with heated combs.
These by-products specifically designed for black women became new cosmetic hits as door-to-door sales soared. Soon after, her products began selling all around the country.
Walker decided to open a factory along with a beauty school in Pittsburgh. In 1910, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company transferred its business operations to Indianapolis for permanent settlement.
The company scribbled down a success story so dramatic that apart from producing beauty cosmetics, it began training its beauticians according to the industrial standards. This set of workers, titled as “Walker Agents” began promoting the ideology of the company that was based on “cleanliness and loveliness”.
As an entrepreneur and an innovator, Walker arranged conferences and conventions that focused on public service such as communal philanthropies, academic scholarships and donations to old houses.
After being divorced, Walker went on international tours and shortly afterwards, expanded her company’s functionality in several different countries including Cuba and Costa Rica. This was also to provide employment opportunities to a large community of African-Americans settled in these localities.
Her personal capital was estimated to be between $600k and $700k of which a major part was left for charities following her demise in 1919. Time described her as a leader who: “unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy, even one stifled and suffocating under Jim Crow segregation.”