Samuel B. Fuller was the definition of black entrepreneurship. Born on June 4, 1905, into abject poverty in Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana to sharecropper parents, Fuller defied all odds and strived to become the richest black person in the United States in the 1950s.
From humble beginnings, Fuller carved his entrepreneurial acumen at a very tender age, going door to door to sell various products.
He was nine.
A sixth-grade school dropout due to poverty, Fuller and his family moved to Nashville when he was 15. His mom would pass away two years later.
The death of his mother left him with the herculean task of taking care of his six siblings.
According to multiple accounts, with the responsibility of fending for himself and his siblings, Fuller decided to relocate. It was said that he moved to Chicago where he did menial jobs, before a sudden rise to a manager of a coal yard.
He also worked as an insurance agent at the Commonwealth Burial Association, a black-owned firm. With the heightened desire to be self-sufficient coupled with the entrepreneurial experience he gathered, Fuller took a bold decision to discontinue his association with the Commonwealth Burial Association and had his own business.
A believer of the business axiom “find a need and fill it”, Fuller went for a $25 loan in 1935 using his car as collateral and started his own business of buying and selling soap door to door.
Fuller’s sales techniques were so successful, he decided to reinvest about $1000 of the profit he made into expanding the company.
Fuller’s company offered 30 items of a little-known line of cosmetics. The business grew so big that he began producing his own cosmetics and allied products, which became nationally known.
By 1963 Fuller Products had more than 3,000 sales representatives in 38 states and Fuller controlled eight other corporations, including a department store in Chicago, a real estate trust in New York, farming and cattle interests and the Courier chain of newspapers serving black audiences in Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.
By the 1950s, he was generating $18 million in annual sales and had a sales force of five thousand. He was the wealthiest African American of his era.
As it is with most businesses, Fuller encountered some troubles. First, a group of racist whites organized a boycott of his products line when they learned that an African American owned the company. And then he had to face accusations that he was violating the Federal Securities Law.
These and other issues caused his firm to enter bankruptcy in 1971. Although attempts were made to reorganize the company, it never was able to achieve its initial success again, according to Black History.
In a 1963 speech to a Baptist convention in Chicago, Fuller called on blacks to save their money so they could own their own businesses. ”If we could save money as well as we save souls, many of our troubles would be solved,” he said.
”The minute that they can develop themselves so they excel in whatever they do,” he added in a 1963 interview with U.S. News & World Report, later that year.
Fuller died on October 24, 1988, from kidney failure.