In 1905 Madame C. J. Walker developed a conditioning treatment for straightening hair. Her name was also Sarah Breedlove. Starting with door to door sales of her cosmetics, Madame C. J. Walker amassed a fortune. In 1910 she built a’ factory in Indianapolis to manufacture her line of cosmetics. Before her death in 1919 she was a millionaire, one of the most successful business executives in the early half of the twentieth century. She was one of the first American women of any race or rank to become a millionaire through her own efforts was Sarah Breedlove Walker.
She was born in 1867 to Minerva and Owen Breedlove on the shores of the Mississippi River in northeast Louisiana. Sarah’s parents both ex-slaves, were sharecroppers who lived on the Burney plantation in Delta, Louisiana. Madame C. J. Walker always said in her public speeches that she “orphaned at seven”.
Her mother died first and her dad remarried and apparently died before she turned eight in December, 1875. Because of her impoverished background she had only a limited formal education. She was married to Mr. McWilliams at fourteen, “to get a home” as describe Walker herself }, and had a daughter, A’Lelia, in 1885. Widowed at twenty years oldin1887,Sarah and her daughter moved from Vicksburg to St Louis, Missouri. For eighteen years, from 1887-1905 she supported herself and her daughter by work as a washerwoman. While in St Louis in 1905, Walker said she had an idea to begin a cosmetics business. Madame Walker’s treatment did not straighten hair.
Her treatment was designed to heal scalp disease through more frequent shampooing. Massage and the application of an ointment consisting of petrolatum and a medical sulfur. Madame Walker did use a hot comb-which she did not invent-in her system, but she was by no means the first person to employ such methods. In fact Marcel Grateau, a Parisian, was using heated metal hair care implements as early as1872, and hot combs were available in Sears and Bloomingdale’s catalogues in the 1890s, presumably designed for white women. Before this time, African American women who wanted to de-kink their hair had to place it on a flat surface and press it with a flat iron.