Madame C.J. Walker
Walker made a fortune on her specialized beauty product line for African American women.
Background: Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on a cotton plantation near Delta, La. Her parents were former slaves. Walker was orphaned at age 7 and married at 14. By age 20, she was widowed with a small child. She relocated to St. Louis, Mo., and later married Charles J. Walker.
Invention: During the 1890s, Walker suffered hair loss. This was a common problem at the time. Because indoor plumbing was less common, people washed their hair infrequently. This left their scalps vulnerable to bacteria and lice. Walker experimented with homemade treatments and eventually created a formula that she called "Madame C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower." After changing her name to the more recognizable "Madame C.J. Walker," she traveled around the country promoting her hair care tips and products to African American women. Her knack for self-promotion made her one of the most famous African Americans of her time and a very successful businesswoman who owned multiple homes. She is one of America's first self-made female millionaires.
Did You Know? As her wealth grew, Walker donated generously to African American causes. She also took pride in employing thousands of "hair culturists," female customers who helped sell her products.