As readers of Kilmer House know, Johnson & Johnson is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Our employees across the world have been acknowledging this milestone anniversary in a variety of ways in their operating companies — as well as some of their individual operating company anniversaries that also fall this year. These ongoing events in 2011 are maintaining an anniversary tradition at Johnson & Johnson that goes back 105 years.
In 1906, the first time Johnson & Johnson acknowledged a major anniversary, the Johnson brothers’ tiny little startup that began with 14 employees was 20 years old – a milestone for any new business. Robert Wood Johnson the first was president of the Company, which had grown tremendously in its first two decades, from its beginning in a small former wallpaper factory to a growing complex of buildings on both sides of Hamilton Street in New Brunswick. The previous year, Johnson & Johnson had completed its first major acquisition – the J. Ellwood Lee Company of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, increasing the Company’s product lines for doctors and surgeons and giving Johnson & Johnson two new board of directors members, one of them being a writer and literary rival of Mark Twain. To acknowledge its 20th anniversary, Johnson & Johnson sent postcards to the retail pharmacists who sold its products, saying “In commemoration of this event in our history we will this year redouble our efforts to faithfully serve you.”
RED CROSS® Notes, the Company’s publication for the medical profession, published a retrospective on twenty years of progress called, not surprisingly, “Twenty Years.” It discussed the great acceleration in scientific discoveries and progress in medicine and health since 1886, and talked about how Johnson & Johnson “…made their way largely by entering into unoccupied land and, by making a place for themselves and then filling it.” [RED CROSS® Notes, Series V, Number 7, 1906] The article wasn’t talking about actual land, but about pioneering new areas – such as mass produced sterile surgical products and First Aid — in which there was great need, but not yet any products or information to meet those needs.
Two years later, the Company marked not a business anniversary but a significant increase in manufacturing capacity by hosting a reception for employees in the new addition to the Cotton Mill in New Brunswick. Before installing manufacturing equipment in the brand new building, the Company used that space to hold a celebration to thank employees for their contributions to the Company’s success.
Johnson & Johnson waited until January of 1913 to look back on its 25th anniversary in 1911 with a special issue of The RED CROSS® Messenger, its publication for retail pharmacists. In that issue, titled “The Years Glide By,” editor Fred Kilmer looked back on the Company’s progress over the course of a quarter century in business. That issue of the Messenger contained articles on how Johnson & Johnson began many of its products and traditions, such as the development of First Aid and how the Company started its tradition of disaster relief.
In 1921, Johnson & Johnson was 35 years old, and Fred Kilmer put together an exhibit documenting the Company’s history and growth since 1886. The exhibit was held in the old Neverslip building and was open to all employees and “other such persons as it may be determined may be admitted.”
A reporter for The New Brunswick Times toured the exhibit, and gave a detailed report in the Sunday, July 3, 1921 edition of the newspaper. Here’s what he said:
“…To commemorate their thirty-fifth anniversary and to refresh the memory of employees with the history of their progress, Johnson & Johnson have arranged an exhibit at a large room at their plant. Here picture, document and product not only trace the history of the concern from the early days to the present, but reveal the plant and policies responsible for success.” [The New Brunswick Sunday Times, July 3. 1921]
The exhibit was in eight sections, each illustrating a facet of the Company’s business, growth or philosophy. There were sections on the Scientific Laboratory and the strong basis in science of the Company’s products, a section on advertising and publications, information on the global reach of the business through its worldwide sales offices at the time, the development of First Aid, employees through the years, and one section on world events from 1886 to 1921. Here’s what Fred Kilmer said about the exhibit:
“The period, a little less than a generation, covers the most important period of medicine and surgery in all its history. It is likewise the most notable period in pharmacy and in the trade in drugs and medicines. The period is an era of remarkable discoveries and advancements in art, in science, commerce, inventions…” [“Thirty-Fifth Anniversary of Johnson & Johnson,” Fred Kilmer, 1921, p. 1]
Here’s another photo of the 1921 exhibit.
Fred Kilmer would no doubt appreciate the fact that some of the same photographs from that 35th anniversary exhibit in 1921 are being used 90 years later during the Company’s 125th anniversary. Here’s a photo of an exhibit for employees this year that’s using many of the same images put together by Fred Kilmer during the Company’s 35th anniversary.
Employees in 1921, during our 35th anniversary:
And in 2011, during our 125th anniversary: