Annie Malone was a chemist and entrepreneur, and would go on to become one of America’s first black female millionaires — along with Madam C.J. Walker — a status she earned due the enormous success of her cosmetic and hair products designed specifically for black women.
She was born August 9, 1869, one of 11 children to parents who died when she was just a child. Raised by an older sister, Malone attended school long enough to discover her fondness for chemistry. It was this interest, plus a knowledge of herbs that led to her invention of products that could straighten African American hair.
By the 20th Century, Malone developed The Great Wonderful Hair Grower and the Poro Method, which she and her assistants had to sell door-to-door as Malone was denied access to regular distribution channels due to the color of her skin. Prior to her advancement of the beauty industry, black hair care methods of the late 1800s included using soap, goose fat, heavy oils, butter and bacon grease, or kerosene.
Her business grew rapidly, and by the close of the First World War Malone was a millionaire — and an incredibly generous one, donating much of her wealth to various African American organizations and charities. In 1918, she opened Poro College in St. Louis, a cosmetology school specifically designed to aid in the advancement of black women. Madam Walker trained under Malone for one year.
Malone endured a very public divorce in 1927, which threatened her financially as her husband demanded half of her net worth. She settled for $200,000, and moved to Chicago to start anew. She also withstood the stock market crash of 1929. By 1950, Malone had opened 32 branches of Poro College nationwide. She died on May 10, 1957.