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CHAPTER 17

What Was it Like to Work Here 100 Years Ago?

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Mar 07, 2007

Early Employees

Early Employees

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

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.jpg

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, New Brunswick

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.

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Charlene Harvey
JULY 02, 2008 04:03 PM

Johnson & Johnson is an incredible company with a rich history. I have always thought of Johnson and Johnson as a family company, I have related it to warm memories of my childhood and and my children. As I read the company's history, my mind painted a vivid, descriptive picture for me concerning the unity and family like atmosphere that the company was built upon. The loyalty that it had for it's employees is rarely seen in any industry. I was really impressed by Johnson and Johnson's history.

Jennifer Diamant Foulon
JULY 22, 2008 10:48 AM

What a pleasure to find this information on the J&J website. As an HR employee with J&J's French headquarters in Paris, France, I am always looking for next ways to communicate how we truly do stand on the shoulder's of giants. Bravo for this perceptive look that makes up appreciate where we come from and just how far we can go.

Robert
AUGUST 23, 2008 12:47 PM

Amazing!

Johnson and Johnson were full engaged with their employees and that was not only rare in that era, but also initiated strong company core values and company ethics. The history does convey employee support and development, which when fully enacted provided the company with a strong and productive work force.

Way to go J&J!

Don Logan
AUGUST 27, 2008 07:26 AM

Great to read such history, also recommend Lawrence G Foster book "A gentlemen Rebel" about Robert Wood Johnson's philosophy and how great vision this man had for the company and his employees

Margaret
AUGUST 29, 2008 03:32 PM

Don,

I'm very familiar with "The Gentleman Rebel," having done research for it when Mr. Foster was writing it. It is a great book.

Don Logan
SEPTEMBER 03, 2008 10:50 AM

Margaret,

after long research into the company, one question still intrigues me.
After Bobby Johnson, why was no other Heir allowed to sit on the board? Also i would like to express my gratitude to Lawrence Foster for the best book i have had the privilege to read.

Margaret
SEPTEMBER 03, 2008 11:52 AM

Don,

Bobby Johnson spent most of his career with Johnson & Johnson and was the last generation of the Johnson family to be part of Company management. Since then, for four decades, the family has not been a part of the Company. Our internal board members are our chairman and vice chairman. The other board members are independent board members. http://www.investor.jnj.com/governance/board.cfm as per NY Stock Exchange rules for publicly traded companies.

I will be happy to pass along your comments about the book to Larry Foster!

Katie Koala
SEPTEMBER 26, 2008 10:35 PM

I found contadictory information on two separate websites. I was wondering if you could clear it up. One website said that Robert Wood Johnson II dropped out of Rutgers Prep, while the other said that he graduated. Which one is true?

Margaret
SEPTEMBER 29, 2008 02:08 PM

Hi Katie,

Robert Wood Johnson II (who we usually call General Robert Wood Johnson here at J&J) did graduate from Rutgers Prep -- in June of 1911. He took some post-graduate classes at Rutgers Prep while working at Johnson & Johnson part time, and soon joined the Company full-time.

Edna Mclachlan
NOVEMBER 14, 2008 01:25 PM

I got interest in J &J a few years ago when an older relative gave me a few shares of stock , which I still have in the revestment program.
My husband and I are antique bottle collectors, I discovered a J & J
jar at a show and purchased it, this summer we went to the National Federation Expo in York, Pa. where I found a cobolt Blue Jar, which I
purchased, Is there a place I couln go on the web that would show all the jars and bottles that Johnson & Johnson has used through the years.
Thank you E. McLachlan mctax@speednetllc.com

Margaret
NOVEMBER 14, 2008 03:51 PM

Edna,

It sounds as if you have a wonderful find! The cobalt blue Johnson & Johnson jars were used to package sterile surgical gauze and cotton, and were sealed so that the dressings would remain sterile. Taller, narrower blue jars held Iodoform Cotton, and larger squarer blue jars with an embossed "Johnson & Johnson" on the side held Linton Moist Gauze, a sterile gauze dressing in a solution.

We don't have a website that shows all of the jars and bottles the Company has used throughout the years, but you can find pictures of most of the early ones here on Kilmer House. Here's a post that shows the blue Iodoform Cotton jar: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=16
And here's a post that shows the Linton Moist Gauze jar, which sounds like the one you found: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=13

Johnson & Johnson made the first-ever mass produced sterile surgical dressings, which greatly raised surgical survival rates in American hospitals, and your jar was used to hold some of those products that helped change surgery.

Hamid
FEBRUARY 28, 2009 09:13 AM

I have just watched the "Credo" video on JnJ website. I wanted to say that i found the video extremely powerful and meaningful. It showed me a company that really are committed to all aspects from who they serve to the people who work for them and have been from the start. Its a true example of unity, mutual respect and gives off a vibe that says this is a company where an individual can be inspired, inspire, be innovative and share in the success of the company and above all, really make a difference. I get the impression that JnJ is an exciting and rewarding company to work for and the fact that they produce products that help improve the quality of life for the people they serve leads me to believe that it must bring tremendous internal satisfaction for those who are part of it.

Junlee
MARCH 20, 2009 05:16 AM

I have just readed the Try Reality on JnJ website and watched the Credo video also. I found that ,besides with Mr.Johnson ,Robert Wood Johnson, who gave some important advices about economic policies to surrpot President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to recover nations' economic, JnJ take their responsbility for our world.She is great as well as everyone who take care of ourselves and everybody living around us !

Doug Shields
MARCH 22, 2009 01:44 PM

very interesting the history of johnson and johnson, I was looking at the history of band aid and found this website

Jim Vidler Pron; Vydler
MAY 16, 2009 05:16 PM

greetings from down under. can i ask a question. johnson & johnson once occupied a building in the rocks area of central sydney, near the harbour bridge. the era to which i refer was the 1920,s and 1930,s. do you have any employee records from those years extant in 2009 ? in 1932 my father was a young pharmacist in the north sydney suburb of turramurra. my mother mavis kelly was then working for johnson & johnson possibly as a 16 year old switchboard operator and later as a shorthand / typist / stenographer. she had a female friend named phyll ashford who also worked for johnson & johnson. i am a bit curious to know if my mother and father first encountered each other over the telephone, when he was ordering supplies for the turramurra pharmacy. those conversations may have been less romantic and more amusing, as he had a speech impediment known as a stammer. saying the two words ' beecham's pills ' required concentration and about 5 minutes effort. it was nice of johnson & johnson to loan mavis and phyll ashford a motor bike and sidecar for weekend excursions around sydney. anything you have about johnson & johnson in sydney from that era would be well received by me. sincerely, jim vidler, BDS.,Syd.Uni ( retired dental surgeon and author ) parkway manor, unit 15, 90 brooks st., bar beach. newcastle. 2300 nsw

Margaret
MAY 18, 2009 05:30 PM

Jim,

That's a great story! Johnson & Johnson opened its first Australian operating company in 1931, as a result of a worldwide trip taken by the sons of one of our founders in 1923-24. They visited a variety of places to determine where the best locations for decentralized, international operating companies would be, and it was determined that Australia would be a great location. Johnson & Johnson already sold products there for many years through local importers/sales agents called Potter and Birks in Sydney. The son of one of the partners in Potter and Birks became the first manager of the new Johnson & Johnson facility in Sydney. So when your parents met (if they met through Johnson & Johnson) our Australian company would have been very new -- about a year old. I wouldn't have any information on the motor bike and sidecar, though.

Margaret

Joanne
JUNE 23, 2009 10:14 AM

Very interesting. My mother worked for Johnson& Johnson in the early 1950s, and said it was the best company she ever worked for. Thanks for the history.

Pat Kreiner
NOVEMBER 17, 2009 11:39 PM

I just read the abreviated histories of both the SC Johnson Co. and Johnson & Johnson. The similarities are amazing, both companies seem to have similar employee loyalties. Both companies are multinational and have been in business for over a hundred years. I wonder if there isany connection between the two Johnsons? Very interesting read.

Margaret
NOVEMBER 18, 2009 11:22 AM

Hi Pat,

There is no connection between SC Johnson and Johnson & Johnson -- the founding families of each company were coincidentally named Johnson but were not related. The three Johnson brothers who started Johnson & Johnson were from Pennsylvania originally. Both companies have strong values and commitment from employees and, judging from the historical information on the SC Johnson website, both founding families have/had a similar business philosophy. SC Johnson is still family owned, but Johnson & Johnson became publicly traded in 1944, though General Robert Wood Johnson (son of one of our founders) led our company until 1963. And although there's no connection, here's another strange coincidence that leads people to think there's a connection: both SC Johnson and Johnson & Johnson were founded in 1886!

Margaret

Jim Weinheimer
DECEMBER 13, 2009 08:05 AM

Hello, My family is from South River, NJ. My Grandfather Fred Weinheimer, managed Middlessex Transportation. He & my father told me stories about the Company's ships.In fact I have the ships clock from one of the ships. It was a diesel electric powered ship, but forget the name. I think it might have been called the rarintin. But if the company has a museium, I might be interested in selling the clock, It still runs! Have lots of stories from the period. Grandfather told me stories that he had met Edision once. cannot confirm, but going through his estate we did run across stuff that supports his stories, even found an original edision storage battery. Grandfather also was one of the first people to have a ham radio license in NJ. He tol dme stories of during the depression of how he was lucky to have had a job because of Johnson and Johnson.

Margaret
DECEMBER 14, 2009 11:44 AM

Hi Jim,

Thanks for sharing some of your family's history with Johnson & Johnson! We have lots of photos of those steamboats in our archives. The Company had them because it was a faster way to get our products to port in New York to be shipped all over the world, and also because with the steamboats, the crates of Johnson & Johnson products didn't have to change hands many times and be loaded and unloaded on the railroad -- they could go right from Johnson & Johnson on the Middlesex Transportation Company boats directly to the ships in New York, cutting an entire day's journey down to a few hours and ensuring the safe delivery of the products. Some of the ship names were the Robert W. Johnson, the James W. Johnson, the Edward Farrington and the Trenton. Here's a post on our steamboats, if you're interested: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=777

I'm glad to hear you still have one of the ship's clocks -- and that it still works! We do have a museum, so please keep us in mind!

That's wonderful that your grandfather met Thomas Edison. Here's a bit of information that will serve as further confirmation for you: Thomas Edison had a Johnson & Johnson connection. He was friends with Fred Kilmer, our Scientific Director from 1889-1934. Kilmer used to own a pharmcy in downtown New Brunswick, and Edison was a frequent visitor to Kilmer's pharmacy. Kilmer sold his pharmacy in 1889 and joined Johnson & Johnson, and he would have kept up the connection with Edison.

I would love to hear more stories about your grandfather's days with the Middlesex Transportation Company.

Best Regards,

Margaret

Pam Miskimen
JANUARY 05, 2010 07:26 PM

My Great Grandmother came over from Ireland in 1886 and got a job working for the Johnson family as a house maid. I was wondering if the family had any old pictures of any housing staff from 1886-1896?
It would be really neat to see an old picturen of her working there....she was always so proud and bragged about working for this family.

Pam Miskimen
JANUARY 05, 2010 07:26 PM

My Great Grandmother came over from Ireland in 1886 and got a job working for the Johnson family as a house maid. I was wondering if the family had any old pictures of any housing staff from 1886-1896?

Margaret
JANUARY 06, 2010 09:54 AM

Pam,

That's a great story about your great grandmother! I don't know whether the Johnson family would have any pictures like that from 1886-1896. Do you know if your great grandmother worked for them in New Brunswick, NJ? If so, then it was likely that she worked for either of two of the founding brothers of Johnson & Johnson: Robert Wood Johnson or James Wood Johnson, both of whom lived in New Brunswick with their families. This post has a picture of Robert Wood Johnson's house, which was called Grey Terrace: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=139 If your great grandmother worked for Robet Wood Johnson around 1886-1896, Grey Terrace is the house she would have worked in.

Since the Johnson family has not worked at Johnson & Johnson in many decades, we don't have a way to get in touch with them, but occasionally some of them do visit the blog.

Regards,

Margaret

Fredric Bear
JANUARY 06, 2010 05:46 PM

Hello!

I just found a wonderful old (WWI era) photo that I think relates to J & J. I'd like to share it. Please advise how to do so.

Many thanks!

Margaret
JANUARY 07, 2010 12:09 PM

Frederic,

I would love to see the photo! If you have access to a scanner and can scan it, or have a digital copy you can email, you can email it to me at the blog's email address, which is on the About the Author Page: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?page_id=46

If you click on the email link on that page, you will be able to send me an email with the photo.

Regards,

Margaret

Paula Buchak
JANUARY 11, 2010 09:50 PM

I worked in the law department library for four years while attending
Douglass College. I worked part time during the year walking across
town to the headquarters on George Street. During the summer I commuted by Pennsylvania Railroad from Woodbridge through Rahway to
New Brunswick. How fortunate I was to have Lucia Sherlock as my
supervisor in the library/file room! Mr. John Gibson and Mr. Kenneth
Perry headed the team of 14 attorneys at that time. There was Mr. James Hill, Mr. Harry Heher, Mr. Glen Miller, Mr. Herb Bailey, Mr.
Norman St. Landau, among a few that I remember and had direct interaction with in the department. It was a memorable experience.
Taking the first business course offered at Douglass, I visited one
of the J & J plants. That was a great opportunity way back in the
1950's. Thank you, Johnson & Johnson.

Sherian Holdsworth Epstein
FEBRUARY 05, 2010 12:42 PM

Sir:
Just found this website and found it interesting. My family has been connected to the JNJ company for many years. My Grandfather, William R. Holdsworth, was hired to protect the Johnson children after Lindberg kidnapping, and then became head of security for the plant in New Brunswick. When my Grandfather took ill, the General was very generous to him and my Grandmother. My Dad, William F. Holdsworth, worked for the company for 45 years starting at the loading dock at 17 and becoming an executive at Personal Products in Milltown, NJ. He was one of 5 people invited to Bobby Johnson's retirement. They knew each other as children. My Dad felt that the company would always reflect good company practices and was proud to work there.

Margaret
FEBRUARY 05, 2010 01:02 PM

Sherian,

Thank you for sharing your wonderful story about your grandfather and your father on the blog! Your family has definitely had a long and close relationship with Johnson & Johnson and the Johnson family.

Margaret
Kilmer House blogger

Blake Davis
APRIL 06, 2010 10:18 AM

Thanks for the inspiring facts about this remarkable company. Even today J & J has transformed New Brunswick into the beautiful city where two of my children go to university. An incredible story!

Patricia Hadley Vandivort
MAY 13, 2010 05:30 PM

My father worked for J&J over 25 years. I have old J&J Bottles, cans, Auto Kits etc that I am interested in selling. Does J&J have an archives department I could talk to? I have a photo of the products.

Margaret
MAY 14, 2010 10:26 AM

In reply to by Patricia Hadle…

Hi Patricia,

We do indeed have a museum and archives. Please email me through the blog, and you can include digital photos that way -- there's a link on the About the Author page of this blog that will take you directly to the email.

Thanks,

Margaret

Eunice Toombs
MAY 30, 2010 07:07 PM

I have an old pill bottle from Johnson and Johnson that we found in a wall of a house built in 1903. It says Johnson's Digestive Tablets. There is still a pill in the bottle. It has a wooden cap. On the back is-B.P.Co--It is an oval shaped bottle.It is also in perfect condition including the label. The bottle is blue. I have anouther one that is Synol Soap. It has a cork top. The number on the bottom is 1105. The date on the label is June 30, 1906. The label is perfect. It is a surgen's sample bottle. What can you tell me about these bottles and their possible values...

Margaret
JUNE 01, 2010 04:56 PM

In reply to by Eunice Toombs

Dear Eunice,

JOHNSON'S® Digestive Tablets were a product we made to alleviate indigestion, or dyspepsia, around 100 years ago. It was as big a problem then as it is now. The tablets had a papaya base, since papaya was known to help break down food. Synol Soap was an disinfectant soap we started making around the year 1900. Johnson & Johnson was asked by physicians to make a soap that would help them disinfect their hands and keep patients germ free. In the days before most vaccines and antibiotics, Synol Soap was an important public health product. Here are some posts on Synol of you're interested: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=230 and http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=1271

Although your finds sound like they're in wonderful condition, and are more rare than other of our old products, I would not be able to put a monetary value on them for you. Your best bet for that would be to check online auction and antiques sites -- there are many sites (such as eBay and antique bottle/product sites) that deal with old products, including historic Johnson & Johnson products.

Hope this proves helpful to you!

Regards,

Margaret

Betty Clark
JUNE 07, 2010 05:22 AM

Dear Margaret,
Congratulations on a very interesting & informative website.
I understand that my paternal grandfather, Thomas Henry Griffiths, was employed by a Sydney, Australia based company that had the Australian distribution rights for J & J products during the early 1900's & believe that this company would have been the "Potter & Birks" referred to on your site.
As our family history for that era is incomplete, I was wondering if you have any Potter & Birks/J & J records for those years on file or, if not, be able to point me in the direction of someone who may have.
Kindest regards from "downunder",
Betty Clark

Margaret
JUNE 08, 2010 01:58 PM

In reply to by Betty Clark

Hi Betty,

Great to hear from someone from "down under!" Potter & Birks were indeed the sales agents for Johnson & Johnson in Australia in the early 1900s, and had a very close relationship with Johnson & Johnson. Before Johnson & Johnson began organizing into global decentralized operating companies, sales agents such as Potter & Birks sold the Company's products in their local countries and regions. While we do have some materials relating to Potter & Birks in our corporate archives, we unfortunately don't have employment records for them. Have you tried public records in Sydney, such as census records? A quick Wikipedia search on "Australia Census" shows that there were censuses taken in 1901 and 1911.

Best of luck in your search!

Margaret

Betty Clark
JUNE 10, 2010 10:32 PM

Dear Margaret,
Thank you for posting my enquiry on your site and for doing it so promptly. On the subject of the Australian Census records, all name related census material since 1901 has been destroyed in accordance with Australian Privacy laws & the 1891 census shows householder names only.
Similarly, our searching of Births, Deaths & Marriages & other records has not borne a lot of fruit to date, so your assistance is much appreciated & timely.
Here's hoping that some computer savvy,internet surfing, descendant of Thomas Henry Griffiths comes across your posting & solves this mystery for us!
Kindest regards,
Betty

Rashid Gul Khan
AUGUST 02, 2010 06:25 AM

johnson & johnson is great caring company my association from the last 30 years as permanant emplyee have given every thing that this company has done for us. what today we are we are due to this company our relationship has given remarkable knowledge and determination for sincere efforts , devotion and above all loyality. i have promised that johnson& Johnson will be my first and last company . i spend cream part of my life with this wonderful organization and strongly beleive this company save the lives of many ill patients . that reflect the core value of credo . the unskakable belief when talk about johnson&johnson i have 7 member family consisting of Doctors, engineer,IT professional,phamacist and students in different colloges. we all pray for J&J Success the Wonderful largest Health Care company caring for the patients. that impressed me alot.
Rashis gul Khan
SALES MANAGER
Janssen Cilag
PAKISTAN

Cia
AUGUST 06, 2010 07:28 AM

I am doing reaction paper on a case study about J&J's issue with the Tylenol for our Public Relations subject. I just checked out you site for additional information. And then i thought, "No wonder they succeeded the crisis." The site itself is a reflection of your systematic and organized working style. I hope you keep up the good work and continue "taking good care" of your consumers.

Doris Hampton Young
JULY 25, 2011 05:28 PM

Thank you, J&J for this wonderful history, topics about a companies beginning and why it has remained a staple in the medical care industry. I wished it was possible for all urban cities to read and know about how a company such as yours' stand the test of time in such uncertain world. Again thank you today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Sandeep
JANUARY 05, 2012 12:38 PM

Hmm, its a fascinating history for a great company. Its awesome that a person talks about CSR, welfare of employees, Society, stakeholders etc 70 years ago. Robert is a true leader with immense passion for work and he showed the direction for rest of the world.