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Stop the Presses! Life in the Printing Department

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Oct 29, 2008

Regular readers of Kilmer House have learned that, in the early days of the Company, Johnson & Johnson had its own water filtration plant to ensure that it had pure water for manufacturing, its own power house to generate electricity, and its own swimming pool as a benefit for employees.  So you’re probably wondering what else the Company had that might seem unusual today. So here goes:  we also had our own printing presses – big ones.  They were part of the Johnson & Johnson Printing Department which, in 1916, had 35 employees.

So here goes:  we also had our own printing presses – big ones.  They were part of the Johnson & Johnson Printing Department which, in 1916, had 35 employees.

Printing Press in the Printing Department, 1911

One of the gigantic printing presses in the Printing Department, from 1911

So…what did we print?  The Johnson & Johnson Printing Department printed labels for the Company’s products, ads, show cards, scale pan covers* and other materials provided to retail druggists in order to increase their business and boost Company sales…and of course, RED CROSS NOTES and THE RED CROSS MESSENGER.  Employees in the Printing Department also printed a wide variety of booklets and pamphlets to educate doctors, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and consumers about health and medical care, sanitation and public health.  Some of it was black and white, but much of it was printed in full color.

Example of a Drugstore Show Card

A Drugstore Show Card printed by the Printing Department            

Like every other area of the Company, the printing department was scrupulously clean.  A retail druggist who visited Johnson & Johnson in 1916 noted:  “Cleanliness was the unbroken rule everywhere, in and about the buildings.  Even in the printing department, where thirty or more employees are kept busy with modern machinery getting out the pretty labels and the beautiful art work, one could wear a Palm Beach suit without danger of having it daubed with ink.”  [THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, January 1916, vol. VIII, Nos. 7 and 8, p. 459, “The Factory Behind the Goods.” ]  Why did Johnson & Johnson do its own printing back then?  Because of the Company’s exacting standards and the demand for its products that kept production at high and growing levels.  Johnson & Johnson had its own printing department because it was the best way to help fulfill its mission.  But wait – hasn’t the Company’s mission always been to make products that saved lives and improved health?  So how was printing part of that? 

Belladonna Plasters Carbolated Gauze

Belladonna Plasters and Carbolated Gauze, showing printed labels

In today’s world, it’s no longer necessary for a company to print its own product labels or advertising materials.  But 100 years ago, with fewer resources widely available, it made more sense for Johnson & Johnson to do its printing in-house -- in order to keep up with the rapid production of products, and to fulfill the Company’s advertising and educational goals.  (In fact, a 1914 edition of THE RED CROSS MESSENGER – at the start of World War I when the Company was working around the clock to produce bandages and other materials – noted that due to the high work load, the Printing Department was unable to print the usual issue of the MESSENGER at the time, and would make up for it with a double issue at the next publication date.)  The Printing Department was a huge part not only of fulfilling product orders, but also of the way Johnson & Johnson communicated through advertising and education.

Printing Department Employee

An employee in the Printing Department

So whether an employee worked in the Cotton Mill bleaching and sterilizing the cotton that went into the Company’s sterile surgical dressings, or in the printing department printing labels, ads and publications, he or she both would have seen their work as contributing to the Company’s goal of making products that saved lives and helped people.  They both would have felt they were helping improve people's health, not only with products but with labels, advertising and educational materials.

An issue of THE RED CROSS MESSENGER from 1914

An issue of THE RED CROSS MESSENGER printed by the Printing Department

So, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, fair enough.  But is there ANYTHING that Johnson & Johnson didn’t do itself 100 years ago?”  Of course:  we purchased raw materials to make our products, among other things.  And though the Printing Department may have printed the labels, we did purchase the elements that went into our product’s packaging. Like cigar boxes, from the cigar box factory down the street:

Dr. Grosvenor's Bellcapsic Plaster Box

Does this plaster box look suspiciously like a cigar box?

Or jars, from the local fruit jar manufacturer:

Gauze Mill, Jar Finishing Room

Rows of jars holding aseptic gauze in the Gauze Mill's Jar Finishing Room

Or collapsible metal tubes, for JOHNSON'S® Shaving Cream Soap.  (By the way, New Brunswick’s fruit jar company, the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company, was quite well-known at the time…even having John Mason – of Mason Jar fame – as a partner of the business in 1871.)

* Scale pan covers were designed to line the pans of scales used by retail druggists to measure items that were sold by weight.  Since both druggists and customers would be looking at the scale every time one of these transactions took place, it was a good place to advertise.

Scale Pan Cover

A Scale Pan Cover (scanned onto a black background) -- they were round to fit on the round pans of drugstore scales.

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adam Chong
DECEMBER 12, 2008 05:30 PM

It was an informative publish that i have certainly benefited through reading and get to know J+J more back in early years! Great effort! Surely i can share more with others about this especially our current supplier who did printing for J+J.

Anderson C.
JANUARY 21, 2010 02:00 PM

Yeah, I agree. This one is a very informative post. I was surprised that Johnson & Johnson had its own water filtration plant before, I didn't know that. The logos of J&J way back are also nice..Thanks for sharing! I learned something new today. Thumbs up!