Edward George Gardner, a giant in the business community, was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 25, 1925 to Frank and Eva Gardner. Following service in the U. S. Army during World War II, Gardner returned to Chicago and enrolled in Chicago Teacher’s College and then the University of Chicago.
Gardner worked for fourteen years as an instructor and school administrator for the Chicago Public Schools while simultaneously working part time as a black hair care sales representative. Learning of the dissatisfaction of many African American consumers and hair care professionals, he and his wife, Bettiann, launched Soft Sheen Products from their basement in 1964. With brands such as Optimum and Care Free Curl, Soft Sheen Products grew into a multimillion-dollar enterprise employing more than 400 Chicagoans. The company developed into a global force, exporting its products to Canada, the Caribbean and West Africa. In 1998, Gardner sold his family-run business to L’Oreal of Paris. Soft Sheen Products is still operated today by his daughter, Teri.
Gardner remains dedicated and committed to service in the community. He owns the New Regal Theater and currently serves as president of Garden Investment Partners. Gardner has had a huge impact on voter registration in Chicago getting credit for helping register over 250,000 people for Harold Washington's election. Gardner is also a board member of the Chicago Urban league and was invited by President Bill Clinton to attend an economic summit in Little Rock, Arkansas, to discuss the the impact corporations can have on urban employment.