A chemist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Annie Minerva Turnbo-Malone became a millionaire by successfully inventing and selling beauty products and techniques for black women in the U.S.
She was born on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois to Robert and Isabella Turnbo as the tenth of 11 children. After her parents died, an older sister, Ada Moody, raised her. Due to continuous bouts of sickness, she was unable to graduate high school. She did, however, discover she was good at chemistry and managed to make a living out of it.
She opened a shop on Market Street with three trained assistants. Per the racism and sexism that was rife in their day, they were denied access to the available distribution systems so they went door-to-door to sell their products and provided free demonstrations.
In 1903, she got married to one Mr. Pope, around the same time she is said to have met her most famous client (turned sales agent and rival in later years), Madam C. J. Walker.
In fact by 1910, the business had expanded and achieved such success that Turnbo moved to a larger facility. The facility had a manufacturing plant and facilities for a beauty college, which she founded in 1917 and named Poro College, a combination of the surname from her first marriage, Pope and the surname of one of her sisters, Roberts.
The building had a manufacturing plant, a retail store where Poro products were sold, business offices, a 500-seat auditorium, dining and meeting rooms, a roof garden, dormitory, gymnasium, bakery, and chapel. It served as a centre for religious and social functions for the African American community.
In 1920, Poro reported assets of $14 million, making Malone the first recorded female African-American millionaire. Adjusting for inflation, her fortune would be worth $186 million in today’s dollars.
By 1926, the college employed 175 people and had outlets for products in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines employed some 75,000 women. In later years, she faced debts for the state and individuals. She died later in 1957 in her Chicago home.