African-American Firsts: Entrepreneurs
Explore Biography.com's collection of African-American entrepreneurs and industry leaders, including Edward T. Lewis, Madam C.J. Walker, Elijah McCoy, Oprah Winfrey, Allen Allensworth, Tyra Banks and Wally Amos. View full biographies, photos, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
Film Actress, Entrepreneur, Producer, Philanthropist, Talk Show Host, Television Producer / 1954 -
In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show with the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2002, Winfrey was named the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. The following year, she became the first black female billionaire in the United States.
Entrepreneur, Model, Talk Show Host / 1973 -
Famed model, talk show host and entrepreneur Tyra Banks became the first African-American woman to be featured on the cover of GQ magazine in 1996. The following year, she became the first African-American woman to be featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalogue.
Madam C.J. Walker
Civil Rights Activist, Entrepreneur / 1867 - 1919
Business pioneer Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was the first American woman to become a millionaire through her own business. In 1913, Walker donated the largest amount of money by an African American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA. Also a civil rights activist, in 1917, Walker was part of a delegation that traveled to the White House to petition President Woodrow Wilson to make lynching a federal crime.
Entrepreneur, Inventor, Publisher / 1877 - 1963
In 1914, entrepreneur/inventor Garrett Morgan patented a breathing device in the form of a canvas hood—a precursor to the modern gas mask. He later became renowned for using his device to save workers who were trapped in a toxic fume-filled tunnel. Morgan also invented the first automatic three-way traffic signal system, which he eventually sold to General Electric, a hair-straightening product and a revamped sewing machine. Additionally, he was the first African American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.
Film Actor, Entrepreneur, Filmmaker, Playwright, Screenwriter / 1969 -
Famed filmmaker, playwright, screenwriter, actor and entrepreneur Tyler Perry became the first African American to launch his own major television and film studio in 2008, opening Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
Entrepreneur / 1936 -
Years before he earned fame for founding the Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie brand, Wally Amos became the first black talent agent in the history of the William Morris Agency in 1962, following a number of promotions. Determined to make his mark by signing a blockbuster act, his tenacity was rewarded when he discovered the singing duo Simon & Garfunkel.
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