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Fruit Jars, Shaker Tops, Metal Tubes and Cigar Boxes: Some Early Johnson & Johnson Suppliers

Margaret on October 25th, 2012 at 6:27PM

Johnson & Johnson has been located in New Brunswick, New Jersey ever since a fortunate train journey brought Company founder James Wood Johnson to the city in January of 1886.  The former wallpaper factory building that Johnson rented met the needs of the new company, and New Brunswick turned out to be a very good location for a new business for many other reasons.  It had transportation (the railroad, the Delaware & Raritan Canal, the Raritan River, and stagecoach service), it had lots of potential future employees, and it was just bursting with suppliers.  New Brunswick in the late 1800s was home to many industries that made a huge variety of products from shoes to cigar boxes to hosiery to strings for musical instruments to linoleum.  That long list of businesses included three companies that became very important early suppliers of packaging to Johnson & Johnson.

Johnson & Johnson buildings and the Raritan River, from our archives.

Those early suppliers were in the same area of the city as we were – close to the Raritan River — which made it very convenient for Company President and founder Robert Wood Johnson, and probably engineer and co-founder James Wood Johnson, to walk down the street and talk with them.  That proximity — and no doubt those conversations with the Johnson brothers — led to some early Johnson & Johnson packaging innovations: jars for our sterile surgical dressings, the shaker tops for JOHNSON’S® Baby Powder in 1894 and collapsible metal tubes that allowed Johnson & Johnson to be the first company to put toothpaste in a tube in 1889.

Consolidated Fruit Jar Company ad from The Bulletin of Pharmacy, Vol. XVIX, July 1915, Number 7, p. 50.

The Consolidated Fruit Jar Company, located on Water Street, was the most famous of our early suppliers.  They were established in 1858 and incorporated in 1871, combining the patents of three or four former businesses (hence the “Consolidated” part of their name).  They were one of the many manufacturers of the Mason jars that were used in food preservation, but they could go one better than other manufacturers:  the jar’s inventor, John L. Mason, became a partner in the business.  So why was that important to Johnson & Johnson?  The Johnson brothers started our Company to make the first mass produced sterile surgical dressings and sterile sutures, and we needed ways to package them that ensured that the contents remained sterile. The Consolidated Fruit Jar Company’s fruit jars could be hermetically sealed to keep food free from bacteria…which meant that they could be used to package some of our early sterile dressings too.  So Johnson & Johnson bought jars from the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company to package some of our sterile surgical dressings, and a great partnership was born.

A need for sterile packaging meets a hermetically sealable fruit jar!

The amber glass of the fruit jars kept out the harmful effect of light rays on the contents.  According to many antique bottle collector sites, those amber glass jars are especially in demand among collectors because fewer of them were made.  By the way, jars from the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company are part of the Corning Museum of Glass, and you can see some of them in their online collection here.

The Consolidated Fruit Jar Company also made shaker tops, so when Johnson & Johnson put JOHNSON’S® Baby Powder on the market in 1894, it was only natural that the Company turned to its neighbor for the packaging.  By the way, the square-sided tins were chosen because they would not roll away when being used to care for a baby, in recognition of the fact that parents needed to keep both hands and their attention focused on the child.

JOHNSON’S® Baby Powder tin, from our archives. The tins have a shaker top underneath the cap.

The Consolidated Fruit Jar Company made collapsible metal tubes as well, and in 1889 Johnson & Johnson took a chance on this packaging innovation and began packaging Zonweiss Tooth Cream in collapsible metal tubes — no doubt purchased from our supplier neighbor.

J. S. Turner, courtesy of The Tube Council History at http://www.tube.org/files/public/Council_History.pdf

In 1898, John Stroud Turner, an immigrant from England and an employee at the fruit jar company, left to start his own business in New Brunswick, the J. S. Turner White Metal Company.  (They made collapsible metal tubes.)   Johnson & Johnson was his first customer. The Tube Council history has more information about Turner, one of our earliest suppliers.

Johnson & Johnson medicated plasters packed in cigar boxes, from an early price list in our archives.

Johnson & Johnson also bought cigar boxes from the local cigar box manufacturer to use in packaging some products, such as medicated plasters.  The most likely supplier of those boxes was William Black & Company in New Brunswick, who supplied packaging for the city’s cigar makers.  Johnson & Johnson put its own labels — often very colorful — on the cigar boxes we bought.

The most beautiful of the cigar box packaging: Dr. Grosvenor’s Bellcapsic Plasters, from our archives.

Those suppliers helped solve many packaging problems for Johnson & Johnson in our earliest years.  They were partners in helping answer the question of how to package some of our mass-produced ready-to-use sterile surgical dressings, and they helped us package our tooth cream in a way to make it more convenient for travelers — which became the default way to package toothpaste today.

Our 1889 price list, showing Zonweiss in tubes, from our archives.

Our earliest suppliers were our neighbors.  Though they’re long gone, one of them shares its former location with our World Headquarters in New Brunswick:  The Consolidated Fruit Jar Company was located on what is now the corner of Albany Street and Johnson Drive – where our World Headquarters building stands today.  So even though that important early supplier remains only as a part of Johnson & Johnson and New Brunswick history, we can still stand in its footsteps today.

Today, our World Headquarters building stands on the former site of one of our earliest suppliers over a century ago.

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All comments will be reviewed before posting. Since this blog is about history, topics that don’t directly relate to the history of Johnson & Johnson and its operating companies won’t be posted. Product comments generally will not be posted unless they are of historical interest. Some unrelated issues may be forwarded to Johnson & Johnson folks for follow-up as appropriate. I’m also not going to post any comments that have inappropriate language...so be nice!

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