Born Annie Minerva Turnbo in Metropolis, Illinois, Annie while in high school took an interest in chemistry. Due to illness, she frequently missed school, and it was while at home she grew fascinated with hair and hair care that she often practiced hairdressing with her sister. Because of this combined interest, chemistry and hair care, Annie began to create hair care recipes of her own.
Previously many Afrikan American women used goose fat, heavy oils, soap and other harsh products to straighten their thick curls, which damaged both scalp and hair. Annie was able to produce a line of safe non-damaging, hair straighteners, special oils and hair growth products for Afrikan American women. Annie copyrighted her products under the name Poro (which is a West Afrikan name meaning physical and spiritual growth, as well as the name of a Mende male secret society) because she felt that a number of fraudulent imitations or counterfeit versions were on the market. Due to the high demand for her product, in 1904 Annie opened her first shop on 2223 Market St. in St. Louis. Additionally, she launched a large advertising campaign in the black press, held press conferences, toured many southern states and recruited many women she trained to sell her products. She named her signature product “Wonderful Hair Grower” and to promote it, she began selling it from door-to-door.
By the turn of the century, she hired and trained three assistants or “Poro Agents” who went door-to-door marketing her hair care and beauty supplies. One of those selling agents was Sarah Breedlove. This would make Annie Sarah's mentor. According to A’Lelia Bundles the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, in the late 1890's Breedlove had a scalp condition that caused her to lose most of her hair, and that after experimenting with a variety of treatments she discovered Malone's pomade. It was the effectiveness of Malone's products that lead to Breedlove becoming a Poro agent and her moving to Denver specifically to sell her products. Her Denver stay was short and she moved back to St. Louis and met and married Charles James Walker, a journalist. She changed her name to Madame C.J. Walker, and decided to sell her own products, which included her signature pomade called Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, which, like Malone's Wonderful Hair Grower, was a scalp conditioning and healing formula. Part of Walker's branding to distinguish herself from Malone, was to create a story. It went something like this:
By the time she was in her late thirties, she was contending with hair loss because of a combination of stress and damaging hair care products. After experimenting with various methods, she prayed on her hair and she was given her hair care formula in a dream.
By the 1920s, Annie Malone had become a multi-millionaire and by 1924 her income tax came close to $40,000 and was reported to be the highest in Missouri. Though a multi-millionaire Annie lived modestly and gave thousands of dollars to the local black YMCA and the Howard University College of Medicine. She donated her money to, and served as president of, the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home. Annie served as the president on the board of directors of this home from 1919 to 1943. With her help, in 1922 it bought a facility at 2612 Annie Malone Drive (formally Goode Ave.) It continues to serve from the historic Ville neighborhood. Upgraded and expanded, the facility was renamed in her honor as the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center. As well as funding many programs, Annie made sure her employees, mostly black, were paid well and given opportunities for advancement.
Business for Annie was great until 1927 when the president of her company who was also her husband filed suit for a divorce demanding half of her business claiming that it was his knowledge that was the force behind the success of the business. This divorce suit forced Poro College into a court-ordered receivership. Due to Annie having much support from her employees and powerful figures such as Mary McLeod Bethune, she was able to negotiate a settlement of $200,000, affirming her the sole owner of Poro College and a divorce was granted. After the divorce Annie moved her business to Chicago’s South Parkway where she bought an entire city block. Unfortunately for Annie, the divorce opened the door for other lawsuits and in 1937 a former employee claimed credit for her success and the settlement of this lawsuit forced Annie to sell her St. Louis property. Although her business was much smaller, it still continued to thrive. On May 10, 1957 Annie suffered a stroke and died at Chicago's Provident Hospital. At the time of her death, Annie’s estate was valued at only $100,000 due to the many losses her business faced.