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CHAPTER182

Halloween Edition: Nine More Things You Didn’t Know About Johnson & Johnson!

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By MargaretGurowitz
Oct 29, 2013

Spooky postcards, the search for a missing explorer, a classic film noir, black cats, and a mysterious castle.  What do all of those things have to do with Johnson & Johnson?  Read on to find out, in a special Halloween edition of Nine More Things You Didn’t Know About Johnson & Johnson.

File this under “S” for spooky:  The New Brunswick Free Public Library at night, courtesy of the New Brunswick Free Public Library’s online postcard collection at http://www.nbfpl.org/postcards/pc99.jpg.
File this under “S” for spooky: The New Brunswick Free Public Library at night, courtesy of the New Brunswick Free Public Library’s online postcard collection at http://www.nbfpl.org/postcards/pc99.jpg.

Today we would just text, but a century ago, postcards were a popular way to send a short note to someone. Many towns and businesses (including Johnson & Johnson) printed photo postcards for that purpose.  Courtesy of the New Brunswick Free Public Library’s online postcard collection, here’s a spooky night view of the New Brunswick Free Public Library around 100 years ago, just in time for Halloween week.  

The Johnson & Johnson Cotton Mill at night, from our archives.

Here’s an extremely rare photograph of Johnson & Johnson at night.  To keep up with demand for its products, Johnson & Johnson ran manufacturing shifts around the clock, and the Company hired a French chef to prepare hot meals for its night shift workers.  This atmospheric photo from around a century ago shows the Johnson & Johnson Cotton Mill on a winter night, with the light shining from the windows exemplifying the activity of the employees inside making sterile surgical dressings and other products.

You couldn't quite see it from space, but you could see it for miles.  Johnson & Johnson's electric sign circa 1915, from our archives.
You couldn't quite see it from space, but you could see it for miles. Johnson & Johnson's electric sign circa 1915, from our archives.

It’s a dark, moonless night in late October.  There’s a chill in the air.  You’re on a Pennsylvania Railroad train going from New York to Philadelphia.  You look out the window, but the cloudy, moonless night makes it impossible to distinguish the towns on your route, and you feel lost -- until you see a familiar beacon lighting up the evening sky with a friendly message.  Suddenly, relieved, you know that you’re in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  What is that comforting beacon?

Photo from the Nineteen Teens showing the J&J electric sign on top of one of our buildings. The photo was taken from George Street. From our archives.

It’s Johnson & Johnson’s huge electric sign.  During the Nineteen Teens, the Company had a massive electric sign on top of one of its buildings in New Brunswick, which carried advertising messages, messages of support during World War I and holiday greetings.  The sign could be seen clearly from the train (especially when it was lit up at night), and it became a New Brunswick landmark to passengers traveling on the railroad.

Niagara Falls Gazette August 19, 1925 article about the Johnson brothers' search for the Nutting Expedition, from www.fultonhistory.com.
Niagara Falls Gazette August 19, 1925 article about the Johnson brothers' search for the Nutting Expedition, from www.fultonhistory.com.

In 1925, Robert Wood Johnson and his brother Seward Johnson went on a trip on Johnson’s new schooner Zodiac to search for clues about the fate of a lost expedition.  In 1924, an explorer named William Washington Nutting set out in an open boat from Reykjavik, Iceland to Labrador, in an attempt to follow the centuries-old navigational trail of the Vikings.  Nutting and his crew were never heard from again, despite the best search efforts of the U.S. Navy.  There was great media interest in the Johnson brothers’ six-week trip, but they didn’t find any trace of the expedition either.  The brothers found no signs that Nutting had landed on the coast of Labrador, and they felt that the most likely possibility was that his boat had struck an iceberg in open water.

Even film noir heroes need First Aid.  Robert Mitchum next to a vintage Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit, from 1951’s The Racket.
Even film noir heroes need First Aid. Robert Mitchum next to a vintage Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit, from 1951’s The Racket.

Film noir, with its dark, atmospheric look, features gritty mystery stories and hard-boiled detectives, as well as iconic stars like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford.  The Racket, a film noir classic from 1951 starring Robert Mitchum, also features something else:  a vintage 1950s Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit.  The film has a shootout scene in a garage…and as Robert Mitchum stealthily walks down the stairs, the camera reveals a Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit on the wall in the background, lit with moody film noir lighting.   Thanks to film noir fan S.S. for pointing that out and for sending the images!

Another innovative first:  we apparently created the first published cat meme, courtesy of Fred Kilmer and his cat, Tom Rutgers.
Another innovative first: we apparently created the first published cat meme, courtesy of Fred Kilmer and his cat, Tom Rutgers.

Since black cats have long been associated with Halloween, here’s a picture of a black cat associated with Johnson & Johnson.  Meet Tom Rutgers, Fred Kilmer’s black cat.  Kilmer published a photo of Tom in an issue of The RED CROSS® Messenger, our publication for retail pharmacists over a century ago, potentially creating the first-ever cat meme long before the internet was born.

Trick or Treat, brush my teeth...  A very Halloween-appropriate Zonweiss ad from 1887, from our archives.
Trick or Treat, brush my teeth... A very Halloween-appropriate Zonweiss ad from 1887, from our archives.

Here’s a Johnson & Johnson ad from 1887 to get everyone into the Halloween, er, spirit.  The ad is for Zonweiss, our tooth cream.  It shows an old woman flying through the night sky after brushing the Moon’s teeth.  The toothbrush she’s carrying looks more than a little like a Halloween witch’s broomstick.  

Finally, no Halloween post would be complete without a spooky, mysterious castle, and we just happen to have a connection to one of those too.  At one time, General Robert Wood Johnson’s younger brother Seward Johnson lived in an actual castle -- complete with secret passageways and stained glass windows  -- on River Road in Highland Park.  Called Merriewold, the structure was built between 1924-1926.  According to this site, Merriewold was technically speaking an English–style gothic estate house built by New York architect Thomas H. Ellet, using stone from Pennsylvania and roof slates imported from the Cotswolds region of England.  But everyone called it "the castle."  Merriewold has had some very spooky goings-on over the course of its history.  It still stands today in all its gothic splendor, and serves as the offices of a real estate development firm.

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Phil Dahlin
OCTOBER 31, 2013 10:38 AM

Love how simple the advertising and branding was back then - could you imagine a toothpaste called "White Teeth" today? Of course the artwork was very intricate, in contrast to the messaging.