Behind the Johnson & Johnson name, there were three brothers: Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson. So why isn’t the company called “Johnson & Johnson & Johnson?” The reason is simple: even though Robert Wood Johnson had the idea for the company and led it until his death in 1910, the business is actually named after his two brothers.
Robert Wood Johnson
Robert Wood Johnson was born in 1845 in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania and in 1861 – with two brothers already in the army during the first year of the Civil War — he became an apprentice at age 16 in Wood & Tittamer, an apothecary in Poughkeepsie, NY, belonging to his mother’s cousin.
After learning the business, which involved mixing medicinal plasters, he moved to New York in 1864 to continue his career in the wholesale medication business. In 1873, Robert Wood Johnson formed a medical products business with George Seabury, called Seabury & Johnson. The relationship between the partners was not always calm, and apparently it wasn’t improved when Seabury, in a business meeting, successfully recommended hiring his younger brother. This caused Johnson to hire his own younger brothers: Edward in 1876 and James in 1878. Since Robert Wood Johnson had a total of five brothers, Seabury was worried that he potentially could end up employing all of them if he didn’t put his foot down. In 1876 Robert Wood Johnson saw eminent British surgeon Sir Joseph Lister speak about antiseptic surgery, and he got the idea to start a business producing the first-ever sterile surgical dressings, an idea that became more and more attractive as disagreements with Seabury escalated.
Here are some die stamps and an envelope from Seabury & Johnson. The die stamps are pre-1883, when Johnson was still a partner in the firm. Incidentally, the information on this site is mostly correct – the company eventually was acquired by Johnson & Johnson, but in 1933. Here is another site with a little bit of Seabury & Johnson history.
(Edward Mead Johnson (L) and James Wood Johnson (R))
Early in 1886, Robert’s younger brothers, having left Seabury & Johnson, formed a new company – Johnson & Johnson — based on the idea of manufacturing sterile surgical dressings. Edward Mead Johnson’s abilities were in advertising and sales. Youngest brother James Wood Johnson was a gifted engineer, good at designing and building new production machinery, a skill he had honed at Seabury & Johnson. Once Robert was free of his obligations to Seabury & Johnson, he joined the new firm, bringing his business talents, capital, and the force of his personality to get the new company off the ground. The familiar Johnson & Johnson logo is actually based on James Wood Johnson’s handwriting, which can be seen below his photograph.
Edward Mead Johnson became interested in products to help digestion, and in the late 1890s, he left the Company to head the American Ferment Company, which made a product that helped infants who were unable to digest milk. In 1905 he changed the name to Mead Johnson & Company. The Johnson brothers knew something about starting successful businesses, because over 100 years later, Mead’s company (which has no connection with Johnson & Johnson) is still going strong too.