Bronner, Nathaniel H. Sr. 1914–1993
Nathaniel H. Bronner, Sr. 1914–1993
Founder of international hair care company
The story of Nathaniel Hawthorne Bronner, Sr. is a familiar one in the world of business success. Coming from a hard-working farming family, he learned to apply a work ethic and his religion to both his personal and professional endeavors. He founded a company, reared a family of high achievers, and became a millionaire. Throughout the struggle and success, he never once wavered in his strong spiritual beliefs, and the company he started, which became a multi-faceted and international corporate entity grossing over &20 million a year and employing hundreds, still maintains a strong Christian ethic.
Nathaniel Bronner was born in 1914 on a farm in rural southern Georgia. His father, Gene, was a farmer and his mother was a homemaker. Bronner was one of 11 children and learned early to work on the farm. Bronner and his siblings picked cotton, helped harvest the hay, and performed many of the daily chores generated on a farm. The family had first-hand experience with the Ku Klux Klan. Gene Bronner had found success with his farm and a small town store only to be run out of town by the Klan. The Bronners began again on a new farm, only to have the house burned down by the KKK in 1919. The family moved to Kelly, Georgia, and began a new farm, which became successful. Education was a high priority with Gene Bronner, and he put together a library in their home so that the children would have access to books.
Bronner’s education came to a halt with the completion of primary school; further education was not available to rural southern blacks in his area. He had to move to Atlanta for high school and college. In Atlanta he found segregation and slums, but he had been instilled with his father’s work ethic and a strong faith in God. He joined the Butler Street Methodist Church and the YMCA when it was popularly known as the Young Men’s Christian Association. He also enrolled in high school. He later told The World, as found at www.strang.com, “In both the church and the YMCA, I could continue to build on prayer, the spiritual foundation and worship, the principles on which I have been nurtured all my life.” He said that he had learned to put God first when he was growing up. Over the years he developed and followed one edict: place God first, family second, and business third. His first business experience was in a job delivering newspapers.
Bronner attended Morehouse College, graduating in 1940. He was destined for the cosmetics world, having written his thesis on cosmetics and then marketing cosmetics for beauty shops through a paper route he developed for Atlanta World. He also sold cosmetics as a door-to-door salesman. In 1941 he was drafted into the Army. After serving for four and a half years, he returned to Georgia and worked at odd jobs until he went back to cosmetic sales. But this time, he did it under his own family name: he and his brother began Bronner Brothers Company after borrowing &200. From a sidewalk stand in front of his sister’s beauty shop, he sold cosmetic products, and then expanded to other shops in Atlanta. A documentary would later be made about Bronner’s humble start.
Nathaniel Bronner and his brother knew they could expand on this success. They borrowed money again,
Born in 1914, in GA; died in 1993; son of Gene Bronner, a farmer; married Robbie; children: Nathaniel, Jr., Bernard, Darrow, Dale, Charles, and James, Education: Morehouse College, bachelor’s degree, 1940.
Career: United States Army, 1941–45; Bronner Brothers, founder and president, 1947–93.
this time &2,000. After becoming distributors for several cosmetics company, they were able to obtain their own label and then opened their own stores. Eventually the company had a cosmetic store, a drug store, and several wig stores.
In 1947 Bronner and his sister, Emma, taught a class for cosmetologists at the Butler Street YMCA. Three hundred people attended that first small show. From that time on, Bronner Brothers held a yearly cosmetics and hair care trade show that became one of the largest shows for the ethnic beauty products industry. The shows would go on to draw renowned speakers such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and experience burgeoning attendance counts of over 100,000 by the year 2000. Increasingly larger venues through the years were needed, the latest being the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and drawing 50,000 hair designers alone, with many other industry-related exhibitors and attendees.
A few years after establishing his successful business, Bronner looked forward to marrying and starting a family. Nathaniel Bronner turned to God once more, praying to meet the woman he would marry. He met Robbie at Atlanta University and they eventually married and created their family of six boys. Those sons, Nathaniel Jr., Bernard, Darrow, Dale, Charles, and James, learned their father’s work ethic just as their father had from their grandfather. All of the young Bronner brothers had newspaper routes and worked in the business while growing up. The senior Bronner took his sons each morning at 4 a.m. to get their newspapers. But during those busy years none of the boys felt deprived of their father’s attention and love. Nathaniel Bronner Sr. still put family before business, and Nathaniel Bronner, Jr. told New Man magazine, “My father always said, ‘No amount of success can compensate for failure at home.’ None of his sons would ever say that their father didn’t have time for them.”
Bronner became a millionaire, yet he did not feel compelled to exhibit his wealth. He reportedly drove a Buick that was ten years old and lived in a modest house. He died in 1993, leaving behind a vast business complex in which his sons continued to build on his success and vision. The company has its own lines of cosmetics and hair care products, supports and sponsors churches and charitable work, outreach programs, and scholarship programs. It employs over 300 full and part time staff members, operates two manufacturing facilities, one shipping facility, two beauty stores, a hair weaving studio, public relations office, and the corporate headquarters in Marietta, Georgia. The company also publishes UPSCALE Magazine.
Bronner’s legacy was proudly displayed on the company website, which listed the “Principles Taught by Dr. Nathaniel H. Bronner, Sr. to his Six Sons.” Among these principles were Bronner’s guiding themes: Keep God first, Family second, and Business third. Another was what he was told by his parents when he left home to move to Atlanta for high school: Work hard, be honest, and keep good company. Bronner lived what he taught, and his sons carried on the tradition.
African American Videos, www.amvideos.com.
Bronner Brothers website, www.bronnerbros.com.
Morehouse College, www.morehouse.edu.
New Man Magazine, www.strang.com.
—Sandy J. Stiefer
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