The Roots of Black Haircare
Updated: Jun 11
In Honor of Women’s History Month
Annie Turnbo Malone
In 1925 Annie Turnbo Malone was considered the richest woman in the United States of America. Many articles name Malone as the first black female Millionaire.
Annie was born in 1869, the tenth of eleven siblings. She was educated in the public school system of Illinois. During her high school years, Annie was interested in chemistry. Later she became interested
in haircare products and through trial and error, eventually developed her own haircare products. This was the beginning of her very successful haircare business. She would eventually become one of the first black female entrepreneurs.
Her Poro products, including the very successful, “The Wonderful Hair Grower,” were first sold door to door, by herself and three employees. In 1904 Annie opened her first retail shop. Her business soon expanded to mail order.
In 1918 Mrs. Malone founded the Poro School of Cosmetology in St. Louis Missouri, which hired over 175 employees. The school expanded/franchised outlets to North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines.
As a little girl, I learned of Madame C. J. Walker. She was the first female entrepreneur I had ever heard about, and she was celebrated in my community. Many people credited Madame Walker with inventing the Straightening Comb or Hot Comb, as it was sometimes called. Later, I learned that wasn’t the truth.
The Hot Comb was invented in Ancient Egypt in about 900 BC. It was later discovered by a French Hairdresser named Francois Marcel Grateau. Eventually, this hairdressing tool was brought to America.
It is unclear when Annie Malone was introduced to the Hot Comb but it is very clear that this tool was revolutionary in the hair care of African American women. In December 1920 The Poro Company applied for and received a patent for the Hot Comb. Mrs. Malone’s name could not be on the patent.
Besides being a Hairdresser, Annie Malone was an inventor and a philanthropist. She donated to several organizations, including the YMCA of St. Louis, the St. Louis Colored Orphans Building, and Howard University. She was a benefactor for The St. Louis Colored Orphans Building and later became President of its Board of Directors. The home was later renamed The Anne Malone Children and Family Service Center.
Madame C. J. Walker began her career working for Mrs. Malone. Later, Madame Walker redesigned the Hot Comb with wider teeth to make it easier for African Americans to use.