In the circles of black business moguls, Anthony Overton born March 21, 1865 stands out tall. Although born in Louisiana to Anthony and Martha Overton, the family moved after the Civil War to Topeka, Kansas where he opened his grocery store.
In 1898, he established the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company with $2,000 producing baking powder, extracts, and toilet preparations. After moving the firm from Kansas to Chicago, he began to manufacture a full line of cosmetics and perfumes under the High-Brown Products label including the nationally known High Brown Face Powder, which was “the first market success in the sale of cosmetics for black women.”
The banker and manufacturer lived up to his billing as the first African-American to lead a major business conglomerate establishing The Great Northern Realty Company, The Chicago Bee, and the Victory Life Insurance Company.
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Other pies he had a finger in was the Douglass National Bank he established in 1923, which was the second nationally chartered black-owned bank in the United States. Regarding the Chicago Bee he set up in 1925, he earned applause for founding a black newspaper supportive of liberal causes and having a woman, Olive M. Diggs, as one of its managing editors.
The junior Anthony must have taken after his father who had been born into slavery, but rose to become a small business owner after Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation.
The younger Anthony Overton attended Washburn College in Topeka, and after graduating with a degree in Chemistry, studied law, earning his legal degree from the University of Kansas in 1888 briefly working as a lawyer, and a judge in Shawnee, KS.
Following the progress of women’s cosmetics and hair products, Overton developed cosmetics specifically suited for the complexions of Black women. The company thrived and in spite of suffering a severe financial loss caused by the great flood of 1903, the business entity proved resilient.
With sales booming throughout the United States, Overton began to tap international markets selling his products to clients in Egypt, Liberia, and even Japan. By 1915, Overton manufactured 62 products with the company capitalized at $268,000. In 1927, the company’s Bradstreet rating exceeded $1 million.
Anthony Overton died on July 2, 1946. The Anthony Overton Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side is named in his honor.
In 1927, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded him its Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American. He also earned the maiden prestigious Harmon award and Gold medal in Business.