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The Johnson Brothers

Margaret on January 23rd, 2007 at 2:23PM

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

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. 

wood-tittamersm.jpg 

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                            jw-johnsonsm.jpg

(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.
 

PUBLISHED IN: Beginnings, People


Open Response to The Johnson Brothers

  1. I am Stephen Johnson, grandson of James Wood Johnson, son of Edward Mead Johnson. I think that there should be more of a mention about the ground breaking productas that both companies brought to market, not just at the turn of the century but in later years as well. The Johnson family is very diverse in its interests and the offspring of the founders are spread all over the country. None of wich remain affiliated with either company other than through stock holdings. JnJ having gone public in the sixties and Mead Johnson having merged with Brist Meyers in the sixties as well.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for commenting on the blog! You’re the first member of the Johnson family who’s left a comment. I certainly will include more about some more recent groundbreaking products and other developments in Johnson & Johnson history. (As part of the parameters of this blog, I don’t post on current products, so that’s why you only see historical information.) I do post on more recent historical topics than the 1800s/early 1900s, though, depending on the subject of the post…so please keep reading! Since Edward Mead Johnson left the Company early on (1890s) to start his own business, he’s the founder we have the least information on, which is why you haven’t seen a lot of posts about him. If you have any stories about him while he was at Johnson & Johnson that you’d like to share, feel free to post a comment or share them by email. All three of our founders were remarkable people who did a lot to change health care.

    If you’re looking for information and insight on what Johnson & Johnson is doing today and on current products, please check out Johnson & Johnson By the Way, our media relations blog, at http://www.jnjbtw.com.

  3. I know this is off topic… but if you won’t post it perhaps you could forward it to Stephen F. Johnson so that he may reply to me if he so desires?

    I was wondering if you, Stephen F. Johnson, might be an engineer that worked for Boeing in the early-mid eighties?

    That’s all.

    Thanks,
    Antonia

  4. Dear Margaret,

    My name is Jill L. Ware I live in Evansville, In…My grandfather went

    to work for Meads’ when he was 16yrs old in 1916, in the mail room.

    He, upon his retirement in 1963 was a vice president for Meads’!

    My grandfather and Mead became very good friends over the years

    that gramps worked for him…gramp’s name, (Adolph “Mel” Melzer

    Gerard.) Mead’s, was a huge part of my family growing up and when I

    was sixteen years old we moved into, Lambert Johnson’s home…….

    A home that Lambert had built in 1957, very very close to his cousin

    Daniel Johnson’s home. In fact, their famlies’ built a horse stable

    in between the two homes to share.

    Margaret, I have been trying for over ten years to finish

    the story of my parents home in conjuntion with that of my

    grandparents life connection to their home, via the Johnson

    family. It’s been a very difficult task. Insofar, as material

    that’s available to me is concerned.

    I would be very grateful if you could pass my comments onto

    Stephen Johnson. Without a Johnson family member, being able to

    fill in the many many blanks I have in my historical

    accountings—I would simply end up with conjecture at best

    insofar, as why Lambert and Daniel left Evansville. And both left

    very quickly—almost silently and very near the same time?

    Was it the companies’ sale to Bristol? Personel reasons? A

    combination of the two? Or, were there other things going on…

    Stephan Johnson, being Mead’s son had to have lived here in Evansville

    —further, he had to have heard or known somthing about his

    relatives departure from here?

    Margaret I would be very very grateful if you can pass this comment

    onto Stephan Johnson…Perhaps, after talking with him

    I will be able to put an ending a period onto my writings’!

    That would be amazing, as I’ve been hitting concrete walls

    on this subject since 1998!!!

    Thank you Margaret in advance for your help.

    Sincerely,

    Jill L. Ware

    13 Oak Meadow
    Evansville, In. 47725
    (812)319-9094
    jilli1119@gmail.com

  5. Hi Jill,

    We don’t have any contact information for Edward Mead Johnson’s descendants. Since Mead Johnson left Johnson & Johnson early in our history to start his own company, we have very little information about him. Your comment is up on the blog, and if any of his descendants see it, they will be able to get in touch with you if they have the information you’re looking for.

    Margaret

  6. I just happened upon this site and was more interested in comments from above. I am Lambert Johnson’s daughter (Mead’s cousin, although we called him Uncle). Please forward this on to Stephen or other family members to contact. It would be fun!! Although we moved to St. Louis, we are all spread around the country as are most of my cousins.

  7. Hi Tish,

    Glad to have another Johnson family member on Kilmer House! By means of your comment, your information is on the blog, and your cousins should be able to contact you by leaving a message in the comments section. So if any of your cousins are reading this, they will be able to find a way to get in touch with you. If you use Facebook, another option could be to search for your cousins there as well — I just got back in touch with some of my long-lost cousins that way.

    Margaret

  8. I have a question, unless I am not understanding completely your blog has a descrepency. If Stephen is the grandson of James wood Johnson and son of Edward mead Johnson, wouldn’t that make James the father and edward his son? If that’s the case the company would have been started by the father and his 2 sons. I mean i know fathers often name their first born after themselves so that could also be a possibility.

  9. Hi Crystal,

    The original Edward Mead Johnson and James Wood Johnson who founded Johnson & Johnson were brothers. The Company was founded by three brothers: Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson, all of whom have descendents. There are multiple generations using those names, or variations thereof, in the Johnson family. It’s possible that Mead Johnson named a son after his brother.

    If any members of the family are reading and can shed some light on Crystal’s question, please feel free to leave a comment!

    Margaret

  10. I live in St. Louis and are wanting to get ahold of Trish Johnson. My family has a connection to Mead Johnson and I have in my possession several letters and pictures of Mead Johnson’s grandson Elmer C. Wirtz Jr. I also have many letters from Mead’s wife to her grandson Elmer. I am trying to connect the dots as Mead’s wife married Elmer C Wirtz Sr and they had a son Elmer Wirtz Jr. on October 12 1915. Elmer’s wife died shortly after but I cannot find her name or any information on her.

  11. Dan,

    We don’t have any contact information for Edward Mead Johnson’s descendants, but your information is up on the blog, so any interested members of his family would be able to get in touch with you about the letters and pictures.

    Margaret

  12. Margaret,

    Thanks for the note. I meant Tish Johnson not Trish who indicated she lived in St. Louis. Hopefully I will hear from her.

  13. Edward Mead Johnson B 1852 – D 1934 had four children

    1 Edward Mead Johnson Jr (Ted) died in 1930 at age 42. He had a heart defect as a child which somewhat imspired his father into research which did prolong his life.
    Son – Daniel Mead Johnson d Jan. 22, 1993 Very instrumental in building the company.

    2. Lambert D Johnson d 1955 – Do not know the descendents

    3 Dorothy Wood Johnson – Married Elmer C Wirtz Sr in 1914-15 and died sometime shortly thereafter
    Son – Elmer C Wirtz Jr. d June 21 1942 in the Phillipines after the Bataan Death March.

    4. James Wood Johnson was living in NY State back in the mid 40′s but have no futher information.

  14. I stumbled on this blog searching for information about my grandfather, Lambert D. Johnson Sr. and see that my cousin, Patricia Johnson has already found it.
    Tish,
    If you read this note, I gave Meredith photos from my mother’s albums that hopefully you will received since Robin was just here. Most of the photos were taken by Padu and are fascinating. Pictures of Johnson Place as well.

  15. Jeanne,

    I have a couple of legal documents with Lambert and I believe some letters from Lambert to Elmer C Wirtz Jr. and Elmer C. Wirtz Sr if you are interested in getting a copy of them. I cannot find much about Dorothy Johnson Wirtz regarding her death but I believe she died during the flu epidemic in Philadelphia in 1918. I live in St. Louis and I believe Tish does as well.

  16. Phillip Johnson here; grandson of Lambert D Johnson. He had
    3 children: Gloria, Lambert Jr. ( my father), and Evelyn. Lambert Johnson Jr has 5 children: Jennifer + Robin living in Virgina; Phillip and Patricia ( Tish) living in St Louis; Lambert Johnson III in Florida.

    Mead Johnson and Co was recently spun off from Bristol Myers.

    To Jill, above, the Lambert Johnson Jr. family left Evansville and moved to St. Louis, Mo. in 1964. I have never delved into the reasoning for the move.

  17. Mr. Phillip Johnson,

    If you are interested in meeting at a mutual location in St. Louis I would be interested. I live in Webster Groves. cell phone 314-422-9316. I have photos of your Great Grandfather Mead and several letters.

    Dan Garland

  18. My great-grandfather worked for Petre, Schmidt, & Bergmann lithographers in the early 1900s. Evidently he helped design the Johnson & Johnson logo. Is there an archive of the early logos that I might get a copy of to keep with my family history information?

    Regards,
    Susan

  19. Susan,

    I would love to know more about your great-grandfather’s work in designing the Johnson & Johnson logo, if you have any stories you would like to share. Our logo is based on the signature of one of our founders, James Wood Johnson, and actually goes back to the late 1800s. We have products and ads in our archives going back to 1888 with the distinctive Johnson & Johnson logo. Here’s a post from a few years ago about the origins of the Johnson & Johnson logo: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/2008/05/does-this-mans-handwriting-look-familiar-to-you/

    Regards,

    Margaret

  20. My mother used to always talk about my grandfather working at Seabury and Johnson. I wondered if this company was the start of Johnson and Johnson. My grandfather was a naturalized citizen born in Italy. His name was John La Salle and live in East Orange NJ. My mother did say he supervised workers making bandages. Proud to say my grandfather was a small part of the history of this legendary company. As registered nurse I am so happy to that this company promotes nursing in such a positive way!

  21. To those that have inquired about my connection to the family. My Grand father ( James Wood Johnson)was the youngest son of Edward Mead Johnson. He married a french woman during the first WW called Camille LeBoutet, they had two children Francis Stephen Johnson and Martha Camille Johnson (my mother). I have a son also called James Wood Johnson we have affectionately called him the 3rd. I presentlty live in Florida and would love to hear from any “cousins” that would like to re-connect with a family member. Please feel free to give out my information. I grew up living between New York and Florida. ( I was raised by my grand father). I was schooled in Switzerland and at one point went to St. Andrews in Boca Raton, Florida with my cousins, Keith Wold Johnson and Clinton Wold. I have remained close to cousins Robert “Woody” Johnson and his sister Elizabeth “Lilbit” Johnson…that’s about it for now.

  22. Hi Stephen:

    I have yet to contact Dan here in St. Louis since I moved home after a year away. I will do that, please contact Margaret for my email & please let’s get in touch. My brother, Lambert, is in Florida as well.

  23. Ms. Tish Johnson,

    Sorry but I have not checked this blog in awhile since I was not getting much response. Again I live in Webster Groves and have many letters from Meade Johnson to his Grandson Elmer C Wirtz, Jr along with some photos. I am so interested in meeting with you to provide you some additional information on the Edward Meade Johnson family history.

    Dan

  24. I was in an orphanage in Vincennes Indiana. I recall that Mr Johnson adopted a young boy named David who was with us there. This was in the late1960′s.
    The orphanage was St Vincents school for children. Any info on David would be appreciated.

  25. Phillip,

    The Johnson family has not been involved in the management of the Company for quite some time and, unfortunately, we don’t have any information regarding the family from that era. Best of luck in your search.

    Margaret

  26. Question regarding Edward Mead Johnson. Where does the “Mead” part of his name come from? I can’t find any ancestors in his family tree named, Mead. Thanks in advance,
    RW

  27. RW,

    Unfortunately, we don’t have any information on the origins of Edward Mead Johnson’s middle name.

    Margaret

  28. Hi everyone,
    I have been very interested in learning about my family history and it just so happens that the Johnson and Johnson brothers are in it. My great great Grandfather is Native American and his name is Alf Jones. It was believed that the my Grandfathers medicine book had a major influence on the early formation of the Johnson and Johnson company. Not trying to claim anything just want to complete my puzzle. My great great grandfather was a well known herb doctor and there are letters and stories passed down through my family of the connection.

  29. Hi Very Curious,

    Johnson & Johnson was founded to make the first mass produced sterile surgical dressings and sterile sutures, based Sir Joseph Lister’s revolutionary new practice of sterile surgery. Our founder Robert Wood Johnson had seen Lister speak in 1876 and was inspired to make these products to help make surgery sterile and save patients’ lives. Johnson & Johnson was founded by his younger brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson in 1886 and, several months later, Robert joined the company. If you have letters related to the early history of Johnson & Johnson, i would love to see copies, if they’re something you can share. You can always email me through the blog: kilmerhouse@its.jnj.com

    Margaret

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