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Everybody In the Pool!

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Aug 29, 2008

One of the most frequent questions generated by a recent post (10 Things You Didn’t Know About J&J) is “Did Johnson & Johnson REALLY have a swimming pool for employees?”  And the answer is:  yes, we did, in the Nineteen-teens.  (No, we don’t still have the pool.  That’s the next most frequently asked question.)

Here’s a picture of the pool:

Swimming Pool for Employees

Swimming Pool for Employees in the Cotton Mill, 1913.

It was located in the Cotton Mill, and had separate hours for male and female employees.  (This was the Nineteen-teens, you know.)  In addition, there were showers and baths with hot and cold water and Synol Soap, which was an antibacterial soap that the Company made.   The Laurel Club, an organization for the Company’s female employees, conducted swimming classes there.  After learning to swim, Laurel Club members could then use the pool whenever they wanted.

So why on earth would the Company -- almost a hundred years ago -- put in a swimming pool for its employees?  Back then, working conditions at many companies left much to be desired, with long hours, unsafe working conditions, and few if any benefits.

Unlike most employers, Johnson & Johnson provided a number of benefits for its employees, including meals, a medical department with doctors and nurses, a fund to help employees in medical or financial emergencies, educational classes, some company subsidized housing, social clubs and more.  In 1906 this had been formalized and expanded by the creation of the Employee Welfare Department.

Laurel Club Recreation Room

Recreation Room and Gymnasium in The Laurel Club building, before 1912.

As part of these benefits, the Company provided indoor facilities and exercise classes to help keep employees physically healthier.  Employees formed teams -- including a women’s basketball team, a men’s baseball team, and a hiking club.  In the days before air conditioning, summers in New Jersey could be uncomfortably hot and humid.  So the swimming pool was a way for employees to cool off as well as get some exercise.

The Company’s founders and management believed that since employees were engaged in an important mission -- making the first sterile surgical dressings, sterile sutures and more, they should be treated well so that they could focus their energy on making products that helped save lives and improve public health.

By the way, if anyone’s interested in what kinds of bathing suits employees would have worn in the Nineteen-teens, this site and this site have pictures.

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