I first heard about Annie Malone while growing up in St. Louis, MO. There is an orphanage named after her as well as an infamous May Day parade. I’m glad to learn more about her story and hope to see her story shared more and more.


Annie Turnbo Malone was a pioneering African-American woman who some say was actually the first African-American millionaire in the United States (Madam C.J. Walker was trained by and worked for Malone before her own entrepreneurial journey).

Annie Malone Creates the Black Hair Care Industry

Around the beginning of the 20th century, Malone developed the first chemical straightening product to not damage African-American hair. Given the racialAnnie Malone climate of the time, she could not use traditional channels of selling products so she adopted door-to-door sales, in-person demonstrations, and marketing through Black press outlets. When she was ready to grow nationally, she hired local agents in cities across the country (and even the world) to do the same thing – providing opportunities similar to what we would find in network marketing today. With over 75,000 Poro agents that reached all the way to Philippines and beyond, her empire grew.

Malone Creates Jobs and Life For a Community

In 1918, she founded and built Poro College, the first cosmetology school in America dedicated to black hair care, to train those who interested in joining her network system. The building of this college in the African-American neighborhood in St. Louis was significant because it also demonstrated her commitment to giving to others. Not only was it used to train people in cosmetology, but it also became a major center for other African-American economic activities. She provided access to jobs, other types of training, and even entertainment to people who were denied access to these activities for so long. There was dining, a hotel and a large auditorium. Nearly 2,000 people in St. Louis were a part of the Poro College family at one point!

Malone was also a passionate philanthropist, giving much of her fortune to charities (and family). She taught all of her agents to embrace the same value. In 1919, she seeded the building of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home (now known as the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center) and served as President of their board of directors for several years.

Annie Malone Video Profile by St. Louis news channel

By the 1920s, Annie Malone was reportedly worth more than $14 million.

Unfortunately, much of her fortune was lost between her outstanding generosity, a nasty divorce, lawsuits, and past due taxes. When she passed away in 1957, her estate was worth $100,000.

Entrepreneur lessons from Annie Malone

  1. Hire others to help sell your goods and offer incentives that will motivate them to grow your product or service.
  2. Create barriers of entry to your market so that others (particularly former employees) will find it difficult to copy your business model.
  3. Make sure you understand your finances and hire someone to properly manage them when they become too excessive for you to both work your business and maintain its finances.
  4. Draw a clear line between business and personal when dealing with family in both ways – put it all in writing.
  5. Give to your community, within reason, and your legacy will continue beyond your business product.

For more information about Annie Malone, view the following links:

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