One of the most amazing things about Johnson & Johnson history is the connection that people feel to it – employees, retirees, people whose ancestors worked for Johnson & Johnson, and people who grew up with our iconic BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage tins, First Aid Kits, and other familiar products. Since the company has been around since 1886, there are a lot of Johnson & Johnson artifacts out there. Many people are kind and generous enough to send things to us, which we make part of our archives and Museum. These donations – and the emails and letters that accompany them — are part of the ongoing conversations that Johnson & Johnson has been having with people for more than 100 years. So here’s a look at some recent acquisitions that were donated to our Museum and archives, along with a very mysterious mystery item.
This historic LISTERINE® bottle was sent to us by a gentleman from Virginia. The bottle, which dates from around the turn of the 1900s, was discovered at the site of a blacksmith’s shop and home near Reedville, VA. The bottle originally would have had a cork stopper. LISTERINE® Antiseptic was first formulated in 1879 as a surgical disinfectant named in honor of Sir Joseph Lister, the father of modern antiseptic surgery. Around 1900, the product was still used by consumers to help disinfect small wounds, and the fact that it came from a blacksmith’s shop means that the owner probably used it both as a mouthwash and to help keep small cuts clean.
This beautiful First Aid Autokit was sent in by H.T., an employee. The kit dates from the 1930s, and it comes to Johnson & Johnson at a very appropriate time, because this year is the 125th anniversary of Johnson & Johnson making the first commercial First Aid Kits in response to the need to treat injured railroad workers back in 1888.
The Autokit is in great condition, and it still retains its contents, including an Esmarch Triangular Bandage, a famous first aid product whose origins date back to 1870. It was donated with a Johnson & Johnson First Aid Compact Kit – also with its contents – from the 1970s.
This incredibly cool BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages tin was recently donated to our archives by a group that does a lot of work with Johnson & Johnson. Not only is it a rare re-issue tin, but it has a very familiar character on it.
This beautiful JOHNSON’S® Baby Cream jar was donated to us fairly recently. An example of highly collectible milk glass, this product was in countless households…and in the household of the person who donated it. This one survives with both its front and back labels intact.
Not everything that gets donated to our Museum is a tin or a bottle. These decades-old examples of RED CROSS® Bandages were donated to us from someone in Pennsylvania, and are in perfect condition. They arrived with a box of our famous RED CROSS® Cotton.
Johnson & Johnson was the first company to make cotton sterile, white and absorbent back in 1887; before that, doctors and surgeons used it despite the fact that the plant’s natural oils made it useless as an absorbent dressing, and despite the fact that it was generally full of dirt and other plant materials. We also pioneered wrapping the sterile cotton in blue paper. Many people grew up with this familiar box in their family’s medicine cabinet.
Johnson & Johnson pioneered mass produced women’s sanitary protection products back in 1897, and it remains one of our oldest continuous businesses today. In the 1920s, the MODESS® Brand pioneered silent purchase coupons, an innovative way to market a product in an era when it was difficult to talk about that particular product. MODESS® also created one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century. This gorgeous but fragile vintage box of MODESS® from the early 1930s was recently donated to our Museum and archives by colleagues at our consumer operating company.
This rare copy of “But, General Johnson –“, written in 1944 by General Robert Wood Johnson, was donated to us by a Johnson & Johnson employee. Not only is it a rare book, it has General Johnson’s signature on the flyleaf in the front. How cool is that!
General Robert Wood Johnson wrote a number of books, pamphlets and articles during his career, and he was one of the first business leaders to write about the social responsibilities of business. “But, General Johnson –“ is notable for the early inclusion of Our Credo in the book, under the title “An Industrial Credo,” (because Johnson felt that all of American industry should adopt those business principles). The book details Johnson’s experiences as head of the Smaller War Plants Corporation in Washington, D.C. during the 1940s, and he said that the title came from the phrase heard the most whenever he came up with a new idea.
Along with vintage products, books and other items, people also donate stories to us. Some of the stories that people have shared take us all the way back to 1888, and they include stories about how our salesmen in 1921 had to demonstrate how to use BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages because they were the first product of their kind; a story about the mom who had the idea for duct tape as a way to save soldiers’ during World War II; and stories passed down from New Brunswick, New Jersey’s historic Hungarian community – many of whose members worked for Johnson & Johnson a century ago. If anyone has a story to share from Johnson & Johnson history, we’d love to hear from you!
Finally, here’s a very puzzling historical mystery. This mysterious item was donated by an employee who’s a Kilmer House reader and a huge fan of Johnson & Johnson history. It’s a clear, molded glass, er… something that measures a little under five inches in diameter. It stands about 2 ¾ inches tall and consists of an upper round portion on a round stand. The underside of the top section has a lip, and the glass on the underside of that lip is etched or scored. The object is embossed on the outer rim with: “Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J. U.S.A.”
It has a three-part division in the center of the top, and as an item it’s functional rather than decorative.
Was it an item for retail pharmacists? Was it meant for use inside Johnson & Johnson? Or was it just the world’s smallest cupcake plate for three different kinds of incredibly tiny cupcakes? What was it? We don’t know, and we’re hoping that someone can tell us! If you have an idea of what our mystery item is, or think you know what it might be, please let us know in the comments section of this post, or through the blog’s email at email@example.com. I’ll publish the answers on the blog!