Madam C. J.

Walker was an African American businesswoman and a philanthropist who had a company that dealt with hair products for black women. Her company was known as Madam C. J. Walker manufacturing company and later on in her career life, she founded a beauty training school by the name Leila college for Walker hair culturists. Leila was her daughter. She fits well in American business history because she was the first American woman to become a millionaire through her own efforts.

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She lived between 1897 and1919 and she became an orphan by the age of seven. She was named Sarah Breed love when she was born and later in her career life came to be called Madam C. J. Walker (Women in History, 2010).

The idea of hair products originated from a large black man who confronted Madam Walker with a formula that he alleged would be suitable for making a product that would eliminate baldness. The main reason for this was the fact that the man had observed that Sarah was experiencing hair loss like many American women in her era. In her efforts to find a cure for the scalp disease, which brought about hair loss in order to have a healthier scalp for healthier hair growth, she tried many home remedies and the products in the market and she finally managed to make her own shampoo and ointment that contained sulfur (Women in History, 2010). Madam Walker soon afterwards started selling her products to black women throughout USA and her business picked very fast and very well. Many whites claimed that she wanted to transform black’s hair to that of white but she insisted that her objective was to maintain a healthy scalp that facilitates hair growth for black women.

On realizing her potential, she became an inspiration to many black women through lecturing them to promote her business as well as to empower them into business. Throughout her career, she used to practice philanthropy by donating funds to National Association for the Advancement of colored People (NAACP), the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), black schools, organization, orphan homes, and homes for the elderly among others (Women in History, 2010).

Historical eras and circumstances experienced by Madam C.

J. Walker and her manufacturing company

Madam Walker had a big challenge of breaking hair and desperately tried many homemade and manufactured products to maintain her hair and to keep it straightened. In desperate circumstances when none of the products worked, she prayed that God might save her hair. The first experience came through a dream whereby a large black man appeared and told her the components to mix up in order to save her hair as she told a reporter of Kansas City Star. When she did the practical, it worked very well and that marked the beginning of her career (Oakwood Publishing Company, 2010) In 1921, Madam Walker beauty culture contributed a lot to the transformation of the new Negro world. Her achievements together with those of other women of her era lead to a big challenge on the definition of beauty where by a University of Chicago anthropologist went ahead to claim that ‘there was no real beauty among white American girls’.

Her advert ‘A Million Eyes Turned Upon it daily’ was a clear indication that the black woman had made impact throughout the globe. The objective of her advert was to emphasize on global capitalist expansion but it also had a great impact on the black women re creation on the new Negro experience (Weinbaum, 2008, pg 69). Madam Walker was an inspiration to many black women and she gave them lectures on how to start their own business as well as healing them to take proper care of their hair. Madam Walker’s husband and daughter played key roles in the growth of their company. In 1906, they traveled throughout the country with her husband “promoting their products and training sales agent while their daughter Leila ran a mail order operation in Denver” (Women in History, 2010). In 1908, they opened a beauty school in Pittsburgh, which was closed in 1910 when they moved their business to Indianapolis to utilize eight major railway systems and still because Indianapolis was the countries largest manufacturing base (Women in History, 2010). As her fame rose, she became a political figure whereby she encouraged black Americans to support the mission of World War 1 and fought for equality between whites and blacks in America. In 1917, she campaigned for lynching to be made a federal crime after the bloody race riot of East St.

Louis, which made her a key speaker in many NAACP anti-lynching operations (Women in History, 2010. Bundles, 2001, pg 187).

How Madame C. J. Walker and her Company Fits in to the Context of American Business History

The American business history is characterized by extensive entrepreneurship, globalization, conflict among competing groups and influence from the dominating political arena (Nelson, 1996). Madam C. J.

Walker Company was the best of its time and its formation shook the whole cosmetic industry. It is reported that the whites claimed that Walker’s intention was to transform black hair into that of whites but she defended her objectives firmly. By the time of her death, Madam Walker was the first American woman millionaire through her own initiative.

Her business ran nationwide and in her advert ‘A Million Eyes Turned Upon it Daily’, was a clear indication that her company was operating on the global community. In her career, she developed her political ties and ran many campaigns especially for the racism that was prevailing in America in those days. She trained many sales agents who helped build roots for her business through extensive door-to-door marketing which enabled her live a very lavish life in posh apartments (Geisst, 2006, pg 481).

Unique Aspects of Madam C. J. Walker and Her Company in the American Business History

Most of the American companies are founded on a strategic plan from professional in a certain field, through research or some sort of discovery. Madam Walkers Company originated from a dream whereby a large black man told her what to do and the results seemed to be useful. She began her business by selling these products and demand increased sharply which lead to the birth of the company.

She never had any prior knowledge on the cosmetic industry and she had not planned to build a company in future. This is a very rare occasion, which makes Walker a very outstanding businesswoman (Oakwood Publishing Company, 2010). Madam Walker had a very harsh beginning but this did not hinder her from becoming the first African American millionaire. For instance, her parents were slaves, she became an orphan at the age of seven, her brother-in-law abused her, and she never had a stable marriage, among others.

Regardless of the racism that was prevalent in America during her time, she was able to build her career to the point of owning an empire. She ever worked as a house help and when she was venturing in to this business, she was working as a laundress (Oakwood Publishing Company, 2010). During her time, law and customs excluded most African American from enjoying full citizenship for America. For instance, they were excluded from American Universities, corporations, professions, government positions and American women had no rights to vote. Madam Walker stood out as uneducated laundress from women who never dared imagine doing business to an empire executive (Bundles, 2010)

Madam C. J.

Walker Company on the Global Economy

Walker had many women participate in her empire as sales people and she lead an international sales force of many financially independent African American women. With time, Walkers principles of entrepreneurship enabled her expand her market beyond US to Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica (Bundles, 2010). Within the global economy one of her advert said that a Million eyes looked upon her company, products, and her efforts daily. This means that her hair products not only served the American blacks but the whole black race in the world (Geisst, 2006, pg 481). She encouraged the African American to support the cause for World War 1, which was a global phenomenon.


From the history of the development of Madam Walker’s business from a community that never recognized women and worse still African American, it is a clear inspiration to all of us to the spirit of business. Madam Walker thrived on her entrepreneurship principles, which enabled her to be on the frontline marketing her product starting with her family and later on venturing in to extensive training of sales agent through out the country.


Bundles, A. (2001). On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.

New York: Simon and Schuster. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from Bundles, A.

(2010). Diversity. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from

9658778.html. Geisst, C.

(2006). Encyclopedia of American business history. Volume 1. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Retrieved November 17, 2010 from Nelson, D. (1996).

The history of Business in America. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from Oakwood Publishing Company. (2010). Walker, Madame C.

J. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from

html. Weinbaum, A. E. (2008). The modern girl around the world: consumption, modernity, and globalization. NY: Duke University Press.

Retrieved November 17, 2010, from Women in History. (2010).

Madam C. J. Walker.

Retrieved November 17, 2010, from


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