Samuel B. “S.B.” Fuller (June 4, 1905 – October 24, 1988) was an American entrepreneur. He was founder and president of the Fuller Products Company, publisher of the New York Age and Pittsburgh Courier, head of the South Side Chicago NAACP, president of the National Negro Business League, and a prominent black Republican.
S.B. Fuller’s life was an illustration of business success and self-help. His company gave inspiration and training to countless aspiring entrepreneurs and future leaders, including John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing, George Ellis Johnson founder of Johnson Products, and Dr. T.R.M. Howard.
His career as an entrepreneur started after he borrowed twenty-five dollars using his car as collateral. Along with his friend Lestine Thornton (who later became his wife), he invested in a load of soap from Boyer International Laboratories, manufacturer of Jean Nadal Cosmetics and HA Hair Arranger. His success selling soap door-to-door inspired him to invest another $1000. He incorporated Fuller Products in 1929. In four years he would be promoted to a manager at Commonwealth while continuing to grow his own company to a line of 30 products and hiring additional door-to-door salespeople.
The substantial number of African American families who moved to the South side of Chicago during the Great Migration became the customer base from which Fuller Products would see tremendous expansion. The additional growth was sufficient for the company to open its own factory in 1939. In 1947, Fuller purchased Boyer to prevent its bankruptcy, keeping his ownership a secret. The company began to manufacture and sell a diverse line of commodities from deodorant and hair care to hosiery and men’s suits. Fuller also purchased several newspapers including the New York Age and the Pittsburgh Courier. Additionally, he owned the South Center Department Store and the Regal Theater in Chicago.
Change of fortune
During the 1950s, Fuller was probably the richest African American man in the United States. His cosmetics company had $18 million in sales and a sales force of five thousand (one third of them white). It gave training to many future entrepreneurs and other leaders. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he declared, “about the color of an individual’s skin. No one cares whether a cow is black, red, yellow, or brown. They want to know how much milk it can produce.”
Despite his opinion, the White Citizens Councils organized a boycott of Fuller’s Nadal products line during the 1950s, when they learned an African American owned the company. This would be the beginning of a turn of fortune for Fuller’s business interests that would affect his activities throughout the 1960s.
In 1963 Fuller was the first African American inducted into the National Association of Manufacturers. During his acceptance speech he stated that “a lack of understanding of the capitalist system and not racial barriers was keeping blacks from making progress.” In an interview that same year with U.S. News and World Report he said, “Negroes are not discriminated against because of the color of their skin. They are discriminated against because they have not anything to offer that people want to buy.” Afterwards his company suffered severe setbacks as many of his comments were reported out of context. Major national black leaders reacted angrily and called for a boycott of Fuller Products.
In 1976, Fuller, as a result of health problems, asked his top distributor, Joe Louis Dudley, Sr., to move to Chicago and become President of the Fuller Products Company. Dudley ran both Fuller Products Company and Dudley Products Company from 1976 until 1984. In 1984, Fuller Products Company was purchased by Dudley.