The First American Woman Self-Made Millionaire Made Her Fortune With Hair Products

Madame C.J. Walker
Illustration of Madame C.J. Walker by Cloudy Thurstag

The first American woman to become a self-made millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker made her money by creating a line of hair products for African American hair. She invented the products in 1905 after a scalp condition caused her to lose her hair, then traveled the country demonstrating and promoting them. After building a school and factory in Pittsburgh, Walker established the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company headquarters in Indianapolis. By the time she died, her estate was valued at about $8 million. She parlayed her wealth into helping the African American community through multiple philanthropic efforts and political activism.

“I got my start by giving myself a start.” —Madame C.J. Walker

Cloudy Thurstag is a Berlin-based art lover turned illustrator and art director.

This feature originally appeared in the Money issue.