What Was it Like to Work Here 100 Years Ago?
In 1907, Johnson & Johnson was growing rapidly. The Company had about 1000 employees, which would more than double by 1908. (In 1908, the local New Brunswick newspaper, The Home News, would list 2,500 employees.) By 1907, Johnson & Johnson had expanded from its original building into 35 buildings, which included a cotton mill, plaster-making facilities, laboratories across the river in Highland Park, sterile dressing manufacturing, offices, warehouses and shipping facilities, as well as manufacturing space where other products were made. Johnson & Johnson had a factory whistle, whose loud blasts were a familiar sound to residents of New Brunswick and Highland Park. Besides shipping its products by rail, the Company also shipped by water, due to its location on the Raritan River, and actually had steamships to facilitate getting its products to the ports in New York.
In an era when working conditions in many industries were being protested as being unfair and unsafe, Johnson & Johnson stood out for its enlightened approach to caring for its employees, many of whom were women. Women employees of the Company 100 years ago did everything from working in the cotton mill, packing sterile gauze and dressings, to washing the glassware in the scientific laboratories.
Cotton Mill Employee Washroom
In 1906, Johnson & Johnson formed a Company Welfare Department, which provided a variety of benefits and help to employees at a time when this was unusual. Hospital and retiring rooms were set up to take care of employees who fell ill on the job, with doctors and nurses available to treat patients and give advice. A counseling service helped employees deal with family problems. A mutual benefit fund was started to provide help to employees during financial or medical crises. A previous post discussed the fact that Johnson & Johnson organized classes in hygiene, gymnastics, language instruction and more. Many of these activities were centered on the Laurel Club, which was formed by women employees in 1907 for recreation, education and charity work. Here’s the Laurel Club’s headquarters:
Laurel Club Headquarters, New Brunswick
The Company’s 1907 women’s basketball team were Laurel Club members. Since many early Johnson & Johnson employees were Hungarian immigrants, newly-arrived and without a network of resources, organizations like the Employee Welfare Department and the Laurel Club provided a much-needed safety net, support and social network. The Company ran a night shift to meet production demands and, to make it more appealing, hired a French chef to cook appetizing hot meals that were served at midnight for workers.
In an effort to improve living conditions, Johnson & Johnson bought three blocks of houses in New Brunswick, fixed them up, and rented them to employees at reasonable rates. Maintenance costs were covered by the Company. Here’s a picture of some of those houses.
Morell Street Houses
And in the days when raw materials were shipped in wooden crates instead of cardboard boxes, the Company broke up the wooden shipping boxes and delivered the pieces by wagon to employees in New Brunswick to use for kindling for their furnaces and stoves. These efforts to support employees earned the Company tremendous loyalty, and it was not uncommon to find local families with multiple members and generations employed by Johnson & Johnson.