In honor of Black History Month, we want to honor some of the most prominent African-American entrepreneurs in our nation’s history. U.S. history is littered with prominent and influential African-American business leaders, and while you already know about mega-moguls like Oprah Winfrey and Jay-Z, we want to shed light on the lesser known individuals who helped shape American entrepreneurialism.
Here are some African-American entrepreneurs you may not have heard of previously:
Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919): Madam C.J. Walker is regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in the United States and by doing so carved her own unique place on the mantle of American History. Inspired by personal hair loss and a scalp disorder, Walker began selling hair products for women and soon expanded into most of the Southern and Eastern United States. Eventually, Walker built her own factory, hair salon and beauty school to train her sales team.
Elijah McCoy (1844-1929): Elijah McCoy was an inventor and engineer famous for inventing the automatic steam-engine lubricator. Born to runaway slaves in Canada, McCoy served in the British military and afterwards worked as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. Using his engineering background, he eventually began tweaking and improving facets of railroad operation before finally inventing his automatic lubricator. McCoy also may or may not be linked to the origin of the phrase “The real McCoy.”
Wally Amos (1936—): Familiar with “Famous Amos” cookies? You can thank Wally Amos for that. Born in Tallahassee, Florida, Amos actually started out in the mailroom of the famous William Morris Agency and eventually became the first black talent agent in their history, signing artists such as Simon & Garfunkel. He eventually left the agency and, following his passion for baking chocolate chip cookies, decided to open his own cookie store in Los Angeles in 1975. The rest, they say, is history.