Does This Man's Handwriting Look Familiar to You?
Most people, unless they read this blog, have probably never heard of James Wood Johnson, one of the three brothers who founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886. But more than a billion people around the world are familiar with his handwriting. Why? Because the Johnson & Johnson logo is based on it.
This familiar logo has been a part of Johnson & Johnson since the beginning. It’s not a typeface, but is based on handwriting…one particular person’s handwriting. You can see the similarities between the shape of the "J," the loop on the "h" and in the "s" in James's handwriting and in the logo. You'll also notice above that James Wood Johnson connected the "W" in his middle initial to the "J" in Johnson. When James wrote the name Johnson & Johnson, he did the same thing: he connected the ampersand to the second "J."
As I mentioned in a previous post, James Wood Johnson and his brother Edward Mead Johnson are the Johnsons in “Johnson & Johnson.” Their older brother Robert joined the Company several months later, once he was free of his obligations to his previous business, Seabury & Johnson. (It’s a measure of the founders’ foresight that they didn’t change the Company name to “Johnson & Johnson & Johnson” when this happened.)
The new company wanted a visual identity that would set it apart from its competitors in the medical products field. The Johnsons' new business was indeed different – it sold the first commercial mass-produced sterile surgical dressings, as well as sterile sutures, and it improved the manufacturing and the efficacy of the popular medicated plasters it sold. So the Johnson brothers wanted a distinctive way to represent their new business’s name. If anyone has ever wondered about how companies come up with their logos (okay, maybe ONE person out there has ever wondered about that), it’s probably assumed that they hire design firms who submit designs that are tested and re-tested and then one is chosen…which is how you would come up with a logo today. But we’ve had the same logo for well over a century. So what did companies do in the 1800s? In the 1800s, most companies just set their names in type…like the Lambert Pharmacal Company, which was formed to manufacture LISTERINE® Antiseptic. Or Seabury & Johnson. Or P&G.
A few companies, like the Coca-Cola Company (also founded in 1886) had distinctive logos that gave people immediate visual recognition and a set of expectations, based on their products. (In modern times, we would call that branding.) From its earliest days, Johnson & Johnson used what we call our corporate signature as the distinctive way of representing the Company. Here’s the logo on some of our earliest products:
It’s not only the Johnson & Johnson logo that’s based on James Wood Johnson’s handwriting, but also the JOHNSON’S® brand name logo too. Here's an example…in which it’s easy to see how both logos evolved from James Wood Johnson’s signature.
Interestingly enough, the signatures of Robert Wood Johnson the first and his brother James Wood Johnson are kind of similar, especially in the way they signed their last name. So although the logo is based on James’ signature, it also looks like Robert’s too.
The signatures of James Wood Johnson (top) and Robert Wood Johnson (bottom) The fact that Johnson & Johnson based the look of its name on one of the founder’s handwriting shows how personally the Johnson brothers were connected to their company, their products and their mission of improving health care for people…personally enough for one of them to put his signature on it.