African Americans like Madam C. J. Walker and George Washington Carver overcame tremendous challenges and tragedy and invented products people continue to use today.
Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867. She was born in Delta, Louisiana to Minerva and Owen Breedlove. One of six children and the daughter of former slaves, Madam C. J. Walker was orphaned at the age of seven after her parents died from yellow fever.
Madam C. J. Walker As America’s First Self-Made Woman Millionaire
She lived with her sister and brother-in-law for awhile. Women in History reports that Madam C. J. Walker married at the age of 14 to escape her sister’s abusive husband. She would wed three times during her lifetime. Her first husband, Moses McWilliams, was murdered by a lynch mob two years after their daughter Lelia was born.
After her husband was murdered, Madam C. J. Walker took young Leila and moved to St. Louis, Missouri. While there she performed domestic work to support Leila and herself. Stress of dealing with her life’s challenges caused Madam C. J. Walker’s hair to fall out. Black Inventor Museum reports that a man appeared to Madam C. J. Walker in a dream and gave her formula ingredients that would stop her hair from falling out.
In 1905, after the death of her brother, Madam C. J. Walker left St. Louis and moved to Denver, Colorado. She had two dollar to her name. While in Denver, she assisted her sister-in-law and met Charles Joseph “CJ” Walker, a newspaperman by trade. Charles was also a highly skilled marketer. The couple was married on January 4, 1906. They started the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
The company’s products were hair formulas created for African American women to shampoo and lotion their hair. The hair care and hair growth products took off. After the couple divorced, Charles continued to help market C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. The company ran ads in African American newspapers and conducted door-to-door direct sales. Less than a decade after Charles and she started the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, Sarah Breedlove was a millionaire.
Peanut Butter One of 400 Inventions George Washington Carver Created
George Washington Carver was born into slavery between 1860 and 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri. His parents, Mary and Giles Carver, lived under slavery’s tortuous brutality. Giles died before George was born. George and his mother, Mary’s, home was raided by racist nightriders when George was a child.
George was separated from his mother during the attack. When he was 10 years old, he left Missouri and moved to Minneapolis, Kansas. He 1890 he attended Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa and became the college’s first African American student. While at Simpson College, George studied art and piano. His love for plants and science compelled him to enroll at State Agricultural College in Ames, Iowa.
The African American inventor worked as an instructor while he continued his education at State Agricultural College, where he earned a graduate degree in 1896. That same year George Washington Carver started to work at Tuskegee University in their Agricultural Research Department.
Crop rotation techniques that allowed soil to retain its nutrients, synthetic rubber which was used on roadways, paints, dyes, cosmetic products and peanut butter are amongst the 400 products George Washington Carver invented. For his many genius works and as recorded at The Great Idea Finder website, he won the Spingarn Medal, the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for “distinguished research agricultural chemistry” and Man of the Year by the International Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians.
In 1990 George Washington Carver was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He renowned African American scientists and inventor also had a United States postage stamp created in his honor.
Although not widely taught in many American secondary schools, people of African American heritage are responsible for inventing products and services that thousands and millions of people use today. Black History Month is a time of year when the United States spotlights great achievements and accomplishments made by its African American citizens.