Inventors are inspirational. Annie Malone was an inventor, businesswoman, educator, and philanthropist. She or, a former student of hers, Madame C.J.Walker, are credited with starting the African American cosmetics and beauty industry. Annie founded and developed a large commercial and educational enterprise.
Annie Minerva Turnbo was born on August 9, 1869 in Metropolis, Illinois. She had nine older and one younger sibling. Her parents both died when she was young and Annie went to live with an older sister in Peoria. She attended high school, but did not graduate due to illness. Annie liked doing her and her sisters hair and started experimenting with different products to use. Annie developed a straightening product for African American hair that did not cause damage to the hair or scalp. She next expanded her hair care line and developed other beauty products. One of her products, Wonderful Hair Grower, became a popular product.
In 1902, Annie moved her business to St. Louis, Missouri and hired and trained other black women. They sold the products door-to-door, at black churches, and black community centers. In 1903, she briefly married a Mr. Pope. They divorced as he tried to interfere with her growing business. In 1904, she opened her first shop in St. Louis to sell her products. She named her business Poro and in 1910 they moved to a larger facility and the distribution expanded nationally.
In 1914, Annie married Eugene Malone. Some sources report his name as Aaron Malone. He became the company’s chief manager and president. They built a five-story multipurpose facility. The new complex included a manufacturing plant, a beauty college, a retail store,an auditorium, dining and meeting rooms, a roof garden, dormitory, gymnasium, bakery, and chapel. By 1918 Poro College included Annie’s business office, manufacturing center, training center, and facilities for civic, religious, and social functions. Her complex held meetings of the National Negro Business League and other organizations. By 1926, Poro employed 175 people and had franchise outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines, employing nearly 75,000 women.
Annie became a multi-millionaire. Her philanthropy was the recipient of much of her profits. She gave to the local black YMCA, the Howard University College of Medicine, Tuskegee Institute, the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home, funded programs, gave to charities, helped her family, and rewarded her employees. She donated the site for the children’s home and raised most of the construction costs for their new facility. She served on the home’s executive board from 1919 until 1943.
In 1927, her husband filed for divorce. They fought over the business and negotiated a settlement of $200,000. In 1930, Annie moved the business to Chicago. Financial trouble continued with lawsuits and government taxes. By 1951, the government took control of Poro and sold most of its property. Despite these issues, she was a huge help to African American women and others. She donated to educational, civic, and social causes.
Annie Turnbo Malone died of a stroke in 1957. Her estate, which was greatly reduced by this time, was left to her nieces and nephews. Honors have been given to her before and after her passing. She was named an honorary member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. She was awarded an honorary degree from Howard University. The St. Louis Colored Orphans Home had also been renamed the Annie Malone Children’s Home. Be inspired! Have a bright day!