Black History month observances tend to honor civil rights and cultural heroes. Less often discussed are the many Black contributors to the manufacturing industry, including the millions of Black people who became a critical part of the manufacturing work force through the Great Migration between 1915 and 1970. Men like our Executive Director’s grandfather, Walter Theus, who was a skilled machine mechanic who worked well past becoming legally blind with cataracts and retired from a cardboard box manufacturing company in Chicago without a pension, were part of what made manufacturing a critical part of our economy.
Along with the contribution of millions of Black production workers, there were also Black leaders of industry who have made a mark and some who continue to play an important role in the making and the building of America.
Charles Richard Patterson:
Born into slavery in 1833 in Virginia, Patterson escaped slavery in 1861 and settled in Greenfield, OH. Patterson then went into the carriage-building business with business partner JP Lowe. JP Lowe was bought out by Patterson and the company became known as CR Patterson and Sons Company. The company built 28 types of horse drawn vehicles. After Patterson’s death in 1910, his son Frederick took over the business, turning it into an automobile business.
Madame CJ Walker: In 1908 Madame CJ Walker started her own company manufacturing specialized hair products for African American women. She was America’s first self-made female millionaire. The Madame CJ Walker Manufacturing Company employed thousands of women. In addition to on the job training in sales and grooming, Madame CJ Walker taught many women how to budget, build their business, and become financially independent. Walker was also a generous philanthropist and supported many worthy causes in and beyond the African American community. The architecturally significant Madame Walker building in Indianapolis is currently under renovation and stands as a reminder of the good things that can happen when wealth is intentionally circulated into building the community.
In this photo, Madame Walker is standing next to George Knox, Indy’s most successful Black newspaper publisher. Booker T. Washington is also next to her on the right. Our managing editor’s great grandfather, Dr. Joseph H. Ward, is standing on the top right of the photo in the fedora hat. Madame Walker launched her national product sales and promotion system from Dr. Ward’s parlor in Indianapolis.
George Washington Carver: Born into slavery around 1864, Carver went on to become one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time. Carver developed over 100 products using the peanut including dyes, plastics, and gasoline.
Daymond John: Fubu is one of the fastest growing apparel companies in the American fashion industry, producing a variety of clothing and accessories ranging from baseball caps and sweatshirts to men’s semi-formal suits. The company was conceived and founded by Daymond John, a native of Queens, New York, in conjunction with three childhood friends, each of whom continue to play a role in Fubu’s management. Fubu, an acronym for “for us, by us,” gears its product line to young men, and the label’s designs reflect the style of the music and fashion phenomenon known as hip-hop.