Around the World in 1908 with Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson opened its first international operating company in Canada in 1919, followed by one in the United Kingdom in 1924. Our decentralized global expansion continued, and today the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies is made up of more than 250 operating companies in 60 countries. A Johnson & Johnson employee traveling around the world today would see a Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies presence across the globe. But what if a Johnson & Johnson employee decided to go around the world back in 1908? He or she would still see a Johnson & Johnson presence around the world. How was that possible? Through the close relationships the Company had with its global sales agents over 100 years ago.
Let’s join that Johnson & Johnson employee on a trip around the world in 1908. Our first stop is Canada, by way of the U.K. But for our first stop, we need to go back further, to 1888, two years after Johnson & Johnson was founded. At that time, the Johnson brothers were already building partnerships with sales agents to sell the Company’s products across the world. Their oldest partnership was with the Gilmour brothers, who became the Johnson & Johnson sales agents in Montreal, Canada. The relationship with the Gilmours began around 1888-1889 and, by 1919, it had progressed into such a close partnership that they were hired by the Johnson brothers to manage our first international operating company in Canada.
In the U.K., Johnson & Johnson opened its first operating company in 1924, but in November of 1908, you could find us at the London Medical Exhibition. Our booth at that event was staffed by the Company’s U.K. sales agents, John Timpson & Company.
The Company also had sales representatives in Germany. The photo below shows one of the representatives from Hamburg, who found a creative way to travel on the Company’s behalf.
Next stop: Japan. Here’s a retail pharmacy in Kobe, Japan in June of 1909. Alert blog readers will notice the Company’s large and eye-catching cotton ad, hanging at the back of the pharmacy.
The same ad was also spotted in Mexico City, at the offices of the Company’s sales agents.
At the Bombay Medical Congress in Mumbai, India in early February and March of 1909, Johnson & Johnson was one of only a very few American companies to have an exhibit. The congress focused on subjects that included infectious disease, some non-communicable diseases, and public health. Part of the exhibit was a model operating theater, complete with sterile surgical dressings from Johnson & Johnson. The local newspaper in Mumbai mentioned “ ‘here was housed the finest exhibit of surgical dressings from the Johnson & Johnson laboratories. These products…were the subject of much discussion.' ” [THE RED CROSS® MESSENGER Vol I, #12, May 1909, p. 160]
Here's a pharmacy in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1908 with...you guessed it...Johnson & Johnson products prominently displayed in the window.
And even in a rural Canadian town called Gowanda that grew up around silver mining, Johnson & Johnson products could be found at the log cabin pharmacy in 1908.
The Company had sales agents traveling through in Egypt as well. Here’s one of them in October of 1909.
In Australia, where Johnson & Johnson opened an operating company in 1931, the Company’s products had been available since the late 1800s. In 1908, the sales agents for Australia and New Zealand were Potter & Birks. To give you an idea of how comprehensively they represented the Company, their 1912 catalog of Johnson & Johnson products available in Australia was an impressive 115 pages in length.
Potter & Birks even published an Australian counterpart of The RED CROSS® Messenger, the Company’s publication for retail pharmacists. The Australian version was called the RED CHAIN MESSENGER, with Eric Birks as the Australian editor, and Fred Kilmer listed as the American editor. Like the American edition, the RED CHAIN MESSENGER (named after the distinctive Red Chain logo design on some of the Company’s products outside of the United States, and on the publication’s cover) was designed to help Australasian retain pharmacists build their businesses while educating them about Johnson & Johnson, its products and its philosophy.
In the U.S., the Company’s San Francisco sales agents, Waldron & Dietrich, received special permission to telegraph an appeal to Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick after the April 18, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Their quick action allowed Johnson & Johnson to have railway cars full of products on their way from New Brunswick to San Francisco within hours, marking the official start of our disaster relief program.
Finally, alert Kilmer House readers will by now have picked up on the fact that our sales agents in the U.S. and around the world shared something else with Johnson & Johnson, besides a close relationship, a dedication to making our products available, and a desire to help improve healthcare: an ampersand in their company names.
Thanks to my colleagues at Johnson & Johnson Australia and New Zealand for the photo of the RED CHAIN Messenger, from the excellent book Johnson & Johnson, 75 Years of Caring, Australia and New Zealand, by Peter Donovan, © Johnson & Johnson, 2006.