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Dr. Kilmer's Cat

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Oct 14, 2008

Fred Kilmer

Frederick Barnett Kilmer

Fred Kilmer, the Company’s Chief Scientific Officer from 1889 to 1934, took his role as a scientist, writer, guardian of public health and educator of the public very seriously.  But he was not against ever so subtly lightening things up a little bit every now and then.  Here’s an example from a 1914 issue of THE RED CROSS MESSENGER.  Sandwiched between articles on the importance of First Aid, advice for druggists on how to effectively decorate drugstore windows to increase their business, and the proper use of Synol Soap, the Company’s antibacterial soap, is a picture of…Fred Kilmer’s cat.

Fred Kilmer's Cat

Tom Rutgers, with a “Don’t Mess with Me” look

As everyone who’s ever put together a publication knows, you need to fill up the empty spaces on the page.  Kilmer, as editor of the MESSENGER and its sister publication for doctors and surgeons, RED CROSS NOTES, often included small ads for Johnson & Johnson products, photographs of pharmacies proudly sent in by pharmacists throughout the U.S. and the world, and pictures sent in by parents of their babies and toddlers playing with JOHNSON’S® Baby Powder tins.

Occasionally the reader of THE RED CROSS MESSENGER would find a photograph of a dog whose coat was kept clean and healthy with Lister’s Dog Soap (yes, that was a Johnson & Johnson product) or a famous athlete or actress of the day who used one of our products.

Ad for Lister's Dog Soap, 1914


Ad for Lister's Dog Soap, 1914

Kilmer was a thorough professional and in THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, he was dedicated to educating retail druggists about the importance of pharmacy as a profession, about how to increase their business (and by extension, the Company’s sales) and on the Company’s philosophy and the science behind Johnson & Johnson products.  But very rarely, he let something more personal show through.  In one issue, he ran a short poem by his son Joyce Kilmer.  In another issue, it was a picture of his cat.

Of course, Kilmer, being the devoted writer and educator that he was, couldn’t just run a picture of his cat by itself.  Just as Kilmer’s son Joyce had helped his father by writing articles for Johnson & Johnson publications, Tom Rutgers the cat also lent a hand (or a paw) in service of Kilmer’s educational goals.  Kilmer accompanied Tom’s photo with a short article, “The Drug Store Cat,” which traced the earliest origins of medicine and pharmacy all the way back through the ages to alchemy and magic, which were of course were associated with…cats, and black cats, specifically.  (Alert blog readers will note from the picture above that Tom Rutgers was a black cat.)  Kilmer went so far as to say:

“A cat is a most useful adjunct of a well appointed drug store.  Reputed as the embodiment of wisdom and mystery, a black cat might, with propriety, be chosen as one of the symbols of pharmacy.”  [THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. VI, No. 12, May 1914, p. 711]

Another reason cats were probably such a “useful adjunct of a well appointed drug store” in the late 1800s and early 1900s was the fact that they kept mice away.  So why the name Tom Rutgers?   It could have been for any number of reasons, such as the proximity of Kilmer’s College Avenue house to Rutgers (his address was listed as 147 College Avenue by the 1906 Yearbook of the American Pharmaceutical Association)…or the fact that Kilmer’s son Joyce went to Rutgers Prep, and then to Rutgers College before finishing his education at Columbia University….or it could have been something else entirely.  Only Tom Rutgers, the feline symbol of pharmacy, and Fred Kilmer, the former retail pharmacist, knew the answer.

By the way, it’s remarkable how many of the people in the early history of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies started as clerks in retail pharmacies:  Robert Wood Johnson the first, Fred Kilmer, Alexander Lewis, the Company's early corporate secretary and head of sales; the Revra DePuy, who founded the first-ever orthopaedics Company. Here's a picture of Fred Kilmer (left) and Alexander Lewis (right), posing for an early ad:

Photograph for Early Johnson & Johnson Ad

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OCTOBER 22, 2008 02:14 PM

Wow! This blog is a treasure trove of history! There's goes all my plans for working on my paper at the airport - I'll be reading here! : D