Madam C.J. Walker’s Journey to Become the First Black Self-Made Millionaire


Madam C.J. Walker


Madam C.J. Walker (Dec. 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919)
  1. Born as Sara Breedlove to recently freed parents near Delta, La., Madam C.J. Walker’s own scalp ailment resulted in her tinkering with remedies and store-bought products to improve her condition.
  2. She was hired by Annie Turnbo-Malone, a Black beauty entrepreneur, in 1905 and moved to Denver, Colo., where her husband helped create ads for the Black haircare product Walker was developing.
  3. By the time she and her husband began traveling around the south and southeast to promote her products in 1907, she began going by the moniker for which she became famous.
  4. She demonstrated her “Walker Method,” which involved using her pomade formula, hot combs and brushing.
  5. Two years later, Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh; by the time she moved her business operations to Indianapolis, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company had bosted profits equivalent to several million dollars today.
  6. Walker’s team of beauty salespeople, known as “Walker Agents,” became well-known in the Black community; they promoted the entrepreneur’s “cleanliness and loveliness” philosophy of advancing the community.
  7. Walker divorced her husband in 1913 and traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting her business and recruiting others to learn the Madam C.J. Walker way.
  8. By the time Walker returned, she’d move her business to Harlem, N.Y., where her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, bought property. Once there, Madam C.J. Walker dove deep into the local culture.
  9. A philanthropist, Walker gave to several organizations aimed at bettering the Black community, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Conference on Lynching. She also donated $1,000 — the largest gift by a Black person — toward building the Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.
  10. Walker died of hypertension in 1919 at age 51 and was the only owner of her $1 million business at the time; she had an estimated personal fortune of between $600,000 and $700,000.
  11. She’s now credited as the first Black woman self-made millionaire.
  12. The beauty entrepreneur’s products were relaunched in 2016, further cementing her legacy as a force in the haircare business.
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