When Madam C. J. Walker founded the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906 in Denver, her first two products were Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower and a vegetable-based shampoo. Within the next few years she added a product called Tetter Salve (to treat severe dandruff) and Glossine (an ointment that was used to protect the hair when being straightened with a hot comb).
While many people believe Madam Walker invented the hot comb, that information is not true. Nor did she invent “perms” or chemical straighteners. In fact, she never used the kinds of chemical straighteners that began to become popular among black women during the 1950s.
Walker initially was concerned about hygiene and preventing baldness. Like many women of the early 1900s, she had horrible scalp disease because her home lacked indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating. Rather than jump in the shower every morning or run a bath as we take for granted today, she and other Americans had to go through the painstaking process of pumping water from a well, filling a bucket, toting it to the kitchen stove, heating water on the stove, then pouring it into a large tin tub to bath. Needless to say, washing one’s hair was not as much a priority as it is today.
For more information and photos, visit the Madam Walker Family Archives. For historical information for reports or media coverage, please contact Walker’s great-granddaughter and biographer, A’Lelia Bundles, on her website.