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12 and a Half Things You Didn’t Know about Johnson & Johnson

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Sep 19, 2011

In honor of the 125th birthday of Johnson & Johnson this year, here are 12.5 things you didn’t know about Johnson & Johnson:

1. Johnson & Johnson and the American College of Surgeons co-sponsored the first televised surgical operation in 1947.  The procedure was transmitted from an operating room at the New York Hospital to an audience of 300 people at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, two miles away.  [Johnson & Johnson Bulletin Oct/Nov 1972]

2. The founding of Johnson & Johnson is mentioned in the novel The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.  The mention comes in a diary entry by one of the characters, a nurse who had tended the wounded during the Civil War.  The character in the book writes an 1886 diary entry about reading a newspaper article saying that Robert Wood Johnson was starting a company called Johnson & Johnson to manufacture mass produced sterile surgical dressings.  The character reflects on how useful those dressings would have been to help the wounded during the Civil War. (Thanks to P.S.F. for pointing that out!)

3. Johnson & Johnson was founded in 1886, but the oldest business in the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies dates all the way back to 1838. That business is Codman, an operating company that’s now part of DePuy, Inc. The origins of the Codman business go back to 1838 with Thomas Codman, who started a medical and surgical device company in Massachussetts…years before the founders of Johnson & Johnson were born.  Codman & Shurtleff  (Asahel Shurtleff was the other partner) supplied surgical instruments to doctors during the Civil War...the conflict in which two older brothers of the Johnson & Johnson founders fought.

A section of the Codman & Shurtleff exhibit at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Esposition

4. Proving that it’s truly a small world, Codman & Shurtleff also was an exhibitor at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition – where Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson heard a lecture by Sir Joseph Lister and was inspired to start Johnson & Johnson.  The Codman website has a photo of a section of their 1876 first-place exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition...which Robert Wood Johnson no doubt visited in person before he founded the company that would acquire them 88 years later.  The online Centennial Exhibition website also has a photo of the full exhibit.  Codman joined the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in 1964.

5. In the 1940s, Natone (the future Neutrogena Corporation) supplied 75% of all the lipstick brushes sold in the United States.  According to information in our archives, that business success earned the founder of Natone, Emanuel Stolaroff, the distinction of being called “The Lip Brush King” in the U.S.  There’s a picture of him on the Neutrogena website here.

Robert Wood Johnson (center) and two others pose with the first Aerokit and the biplane used to deliver it to an airfield.

6. In 1928, in order to inaugurate the first Aerokit (an airplane First Aid Kit) made by Johnson & Johnson, Robert Wood Johnson took one of the kits on a biplane flight to a "northern flying field."  [The RED CROSS® Messenger, March 1928]

Johnson & Johnson Autokit from 1928 with a metal plaque for your Model A automobile.

7. Speaking of First Aid Kits, the Company’s Autokit in the late 1920s came with an oval metal plaque that could be attached to the front of a car, stating that the car was “J&J First Aid Equipped.”  

8. And while we’re on the subject of Autokits, Sir Malcolm Campbell, the famous race car driver who broke the world’s record for speed in 1928 by racing at 206.9 miles per hour at Daytona Beach, Florida, had a Johnson & Johnson Autokit in his car when he broke that record.

The diesel electric freight boat Edward Farrington under construction, from our archives

9. Johnson & Johnson launched what was billed as "the world's first diesel electric freight boat" in 1928, the Edward Farrington (named after a former Mayor of New Brunswick).  [The RED CROSS® Messenger, March 1928]  The Farrington was designed with a diesel electric engine in order to cut down on coal wastage and harbor smoke.

Arrow on the roof of the Cotton Mill: this way to airfield!

10. 83 years ago, Johnson & Johnson had a big arrow painted on the roof of one of its New Brunswick buildings.  What was the purpose of the arrow?  It was to point air mail pilots in the direction of nearby Hadley Field in South Plainfield, which at the time was the eastern terminus of the United States’ air mail system.

11. When television became a part of American life in the 1950s, Johnson & Johnson was one of the first companies to advertise on it, sponsoring early shows like The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Donna Reed Show, Cheyenne and Gunsmoke.

12. Over 100 years ago, Johnson & Johnson made a line of papaya-based products to help ease indigestion, under the brand name Papoid.

12.5  Joyce Kilmer, son of Johnson & Johnson Director of Scientific Affairs Fred Kilmer and author of the famous poem “Trees” wasn’t the only member of the Kilmer family to have a connection to plants. In the 1930s, St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. had a garden of medicinal plants started by Fred Kilmer, which included plants from around the world.  Many of those plants came from Kilmer’s own garden. It was the only hospital garden of its kind in the United States at that time.

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Patricia Rodrigues
SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 07:23 AM

Thank you Margaret. I always enjoy the Kilmer Treasure House.
Could you let us know more about the Kilmer Medicinal Garden?
Thanks again and warm regards, Patricia

SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 04:17 PM

In reply to by Patricia Rodrigues


I will see what more I can find out about the garden of medicinal plants Fred Kilmer started at St. Peter's Hospital and do a future post about it.


Cecilia Guzman
SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 07:25 AM

Excellent reading! I enjoyed it very much! Looking forward to someday visiting Kilmer House. Thanks to everyone who is contributing for us to learn about the history of Johnson & Johnson. I am extremely proud to be part of this company.

Lois Alker
JANUARY 15, 2012 05:45 PM

Wow! I received a Mac for Christmas, and while researching my great uncle, Edward Farrington (my maternal Grandmother's brother), who was mayor of New Brunswick, New Jersey (1915 - 1918) I found a plethora of information. I thought I would not find anything, or very little. I WAS WRONG! Among the surprising things I came across was item #8 above. It appears that this electric freight boat was named after him. I never knew him or my Grandmother as they were deceased by the time I was born in 1940, but I did hear family stories. I did not know about the above. What a nice surprise!

Cathy Lamastus
DECEMBER 04, 2012 07:04 PM

I have a no 8 automotive first aid kit just like the one on your site. It is complete with the metal badge and papers,scissors and all contents that have never been open. I would like to know the value. I am having medical problems and may have to sell. I wrote Johnson & Johnson when I first obtained it and they said it was a piece of history and could not begin to put a value on it and I should hang on to it.

DECEMBER 05, 2012 10:39 AM

In reply to by Cathy Lamastus


Sorry to hear you’re having problems; I hope things get better soon. I did a quick search of online auction sites listing the black metal Johnson & Johnson vintage Autokit No. 8 First Aid Kits from the 1920s and 1930s, and the ones I’ve found have sold on those sites in the $15 to $35 dollar range. Collectors of antique cars from that era are especially interested in the kits, but they would likely be the audience for those sites as well. A quick search on “Johnson & Johnson Autokit No. 8” should bring up any further results regarding collector’s value.

Best Regards,