There’s a little-known legend surrounding the Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters site in New Brunswick. The legend concerns the fact that when one of the old buildings was removed some years ago, a tunnel leading to the Raritan River was discovered. There has been a lot of speculation about the purpose of that tunnel. Was it an old, abandoned mine tunnel from before the days of Johnson & Johnson? Did it have something to do with the Revolutionary War? Or – an even more intriguing possibility — could it have been a part of the Underground Railroad,* which had several stops in New Jersey and ran through New Brunswick?
Well here’s the answer: the tunnel was connected to the Company’s water supply. It’s somewhere around 100 years old and was used to provide access to a water source for Johnson & Johnson.
This photo from our archives is dated “Approx 1909” on the back and is titled “J&J Tunnel to Cond…for River Water.” Pictured in the photo are Aaron Manley, Joseph Witte, Edward Dawson, and Andrew Manley.
Johnson & Johnson needed an abundant supply of water for its manufacturing operations. The closest source of water was naturally the Raritan River. At that time, long before Route 18 was built, the Company’s property went right down to the water.
Since the Raritan was muddy, Johnson & Johnson commissioned an elaborate water filtration system to purify the water that was used. The filtration system, state of the art for the early 1900s, used sand, a purifying compound and compressed air. After that, the water was visually inspected and then tested to make sure it was clean. Scientific Director Fred Kilmer wrote that the Company’s filtration system was “…able to produce somewhat over one million gallons in 24 hours,” an astonishing amount. (RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. V, No. 10, March 1913, p. 286 “Clean Water.”)
Kilmer often looked ahead to what he thought the future might bring. He frequently tied his writing about the Company’s products to needs in society, and he combined those two traits when he wrote the article on the water filtration system, with a very accurate prediction:
“As the country becomes more thickly populated it will be found also to be impossible to protect properly – which means absolutely – the natural sources of our water supplies. There can be no doubt, therefore, that safety in future will lie in some man-made system of treating water to render it safe to drink. Filtration is the answer to the problem.” (RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. V, No. 10, March 1913, p. 286 “Clean Water.”)
* (The Underground Railroad ran from Philadelphia through New Brunswick, and the route did cross the Raritan River. Sources don’t mention a tunnel, but instead say that the route across the Raritan was by barge.)