Team Effort

Maiden Voyage

Remembering Madame C.J. Walker

Ninety-two years ago, Sarah Breedlove--better known as Madame C.J. Walker--put her first hair-care products on the market. Soon her initial investment of $1.50 multiplied into a fortune: She died a millionaire in 1919 at the age of 51. Today, the Guinness Book of World Records salutes her as the "first American woman to become a millionaire solely by her own endeavors."

Born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana to former slaves, Walker was orphaned at age 7, married at 14, and widowed at 20. At 35, her hair started falling out. After saying a prayer to save her hair, she claims she dreamed of the formula behind The Walker System--a line of hair-care products and treatments--which later made her famous.

Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises Inc. is alive and well in Indianapolis, and the company still makes its six original products. Walker's descendants no longer run the company, but her will decreed that the business must always be run by a woman. Says Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises' Joyce Randolph, "We are carrying on her legacy."

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Team Effort.

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