S. B. Fuller, who became a dean of black entrepreneurs after borrowing $25 on his car and parlaying that into a national door-to-door cosmetics company with more than 5,000 salesmen, has died at age 83.
Fuller, who was unrelated to Fuller Brush Co. founder Alfred C. Fuller, died Monday of kidney failure in St. Francis Hospital in suburban Blue Island.
At its peak in the 1960s, Fuller Products Co. included newspapers, appliance outlets and department stores, as well as farming and cattle interests.
Fuller was the first black member of the National Assn. of Manufacturers. He was a native of Ouachita Parish, La., who left school after the sixth grade. His mother, who died when he was 17, persuaded him that the best way out of poverty was door-to-door sales.
After hitchhiking to Chicago, he became a salesman for the Commonwealth Burial Assn. Insurance Co. By 1934, he had become its manager.
In 1935, he started Fuller Products with the $25 borrowed on his car and then used door-to-door sales representatives to handle 30 items from a little-known cosmetics line.
Fuller Products peaked in the 1960s with sales of $10 million annually and sales offices in 38 states.
His holdings eventually included the Courier Newspaper group, including New York Age and the Pittsburgh Courier, the Regal Theater, Fuller Guaranty Corp., Fuller-Philco Home Appliance Center and Fuller Department Store.
His 1947 purchase of Boyer International Laboratories, featuring The Hair Arranger and Jean Nadal lines sold mainly to whites in the South, turned sour in the 1960s when whites learned a black man owned the company and began boycotting the products.
Then blacks in the 1960s mounted their own boycott of his firm as a result of his speech to the National Assn. of Manufacturers that “a lack of understanding of the capitalist system and not racial barriers” kept blacks from making economic progress.