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CHAPTER 27

James Wood Johnson

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Jul 18, 2007

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James Wood Johnson

While the outgoing, forceful personality and ideas of Robert Wood Johnson the first were the cornerstones of the early success of Johnson & Johnson, the contributions of his brother James Wood Johnson also helped make the Company into the organization we know today. 

James Wood Johnson was born on March 17, 1856 at Crystal Lake in Pennsylvania and was the eleventh and youngest child in the Johnson family.  From childhood, he was interested in mechanical things and, although he started out as a “traveler,” or salesman at Seabury & Johnson at age 22, he quickly moved to something that took better advantage of his talents and interests:  developing plaster-making machinery.  James became assistant superintendent of manufacturing at Seabury & Johnson, and he solved many of the early engineering problems behind mass-producing medicated plasters, bringing this expertise with him when he co-founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886. 

It was James Wood Johnson who, while traveling by train from New York to Philadelphia, saw the “To Let” sign on the former wallpaper factory building in New Brunswick, New Jersey, causing him to get off of his train and rent the first space for the Company in New Brunswick…where Johnson & Johnson has been headquartered ever since.  While Edward Mead Johnson concentrated on opening a small sales office at 32 Cedar Street in New York, James focused on the operations side of the business in New Brunswick, hiring workers and installing machinery.  Here’s a photograph of the plaster making machinery at Johnson & Johnson from 1912.

Plaster Making Machinery, 1912 

This photo shows the plaster spreading room, with plaster grinders and mixers.  The plaster masses, infused with medications, can clearly be seen on the tables, ready to be spread flat by the plaster-spreading machinery.

Fred Kilmer wrote a description of James Wood Johnson in the January, 1913 issue of RED CROSS MESSENGER, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1887 incorporation of the Company that had taken place in the previous year.  By this time, James Wood Johnson was president of Johnson & Johnson, having succeeded to that role on the death of Robert Wood Johnson the first in 1910.  Here’s how Kilmer described James Wood Johnson: 

“Mr. Johnson is skilled in engineering, and it has been a portion of his work to devise and put together machinery, apparatus and systems which have played a notable part in the progress of Johnson & Johnson.”  (RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. 5, No. 8, January, 1913, p. 214)

“Personally, Mr. Johnson is quiet and unassuming, but he holds a firm grasp on all the many-sided affairs of the industry, and is in constant touch with every activity.  He is well informed in the progress of the times, in science, literature, and in commerce.”  (RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. 5, No. 8, January, 1913, p. 214)

 James Wood Johnson

James Wood Johnson was president of the Company from 1910 to 1932.  Backed by a group of strong managers from his brother’s years of leadership, James Wood Johnson continued his brother’s policies. 

Baby Products early 20th Century BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages 1920s - 1930s

His tenure saw the expansion of the Company’s baby products and first aid products lines and the introduction of the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage, which he gave the go-ahead to after it was invented by a Cotton Mill employee named Earle Dickson.  James Wood Johnson’s leadership of the Company also saw the purchase of the Chicopee Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts, and the Company’s first international expansion -- to Canada in 1919, and England in 1924, and expansion to Mexico and South Africa in 1930.  This expansion was the idea of James’ nephew Robert, who was taking an increasingly larger role in Johnson & Johnson; initially, James was opposed to it because he felt it would hurt the Company’s export business. 

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James Wood Johnson and One of his Daughters

James Wood Johnson lived with his wife and two daughters on Union Street in New Brunswick, in a house full of artifacts that he had collected on his travels, which included trips to the Klondike and Mexico, as well as numerous other expeditions.  (Robert Wood Johnson: The Gentleman Rebel, by Lawrence G. Foster, p. 93)  Quieter and less excitable than his brother Robert Wood Johnson, James had a reputation for kindness.  He remained President of Johnson & Johnson until 1932, although ill health forced him to take an increasingly smaller role.  But the Company’s strong management, and the growing responsibilities of his nephew, Robert Wood Johnson the second, insured that the Company remained strong. 

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Kathleen Connell
NOVEMBER 25, 2011 09:32 PM

I believe the photo of JWJ and daughter is of his daughter Helen. It certainly is not of my grandmother Louise.

Margaret
NOVEMBER 28, 2011 11:53 AM

In reply to by Kathleen Connell

Kathleen,

Thanks for letting us know that, and for commenting on the blog!

Margaret

Douglas Forbes
JUNE 21, 2012 09:22 AM

I'm wondering if you or any of the Johnson & johnson family have an interest in a stagecoach chest that was owned by James Wood Johnson. His initials and documentation are with the chest. The chest also has the stagecoach transpotation tag from Adams ExpressCo. Pictures can be sent upon request. The chest is for sale