Back to Home

Six Degrees of Separation – J&J Style!

Profile picture for user mgurowi
By Margaret Gurowitz
Mar 14, 2012

Almost everyone has played the “Six Degrees of Separation” game at one time or another.  It’s a perfect example of how interconnected the world is…and how connected it is to the game’s inspiration and ultimate focal point, actor Kevin Bacon.  As a company that’s more than 125 years old, Johnson & Johnson has quite a few surprising connections of its own, so here’s Six Degrees of Separation…Johnson & Johnson style.

Public Domain photo of Thomas Edison Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin -- via way of Wikimedia commons.

1.      Thomas Alva Edison and Johnson & Johnson: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison is credited with many inventions that shaped the modern world, including the commercial electric light, the phonograph, the stock ticker and motion pictures.  So what’s his connection to Johnson &Johnson?  Edison was a friend of Fred Kilmer, our director of scientific affairs from 1889-1934.  (The public domain photo of Thomas Edison is at this Wikimedia commons link).

Charles Heber Clark – connecting Johnson & Johnson to Mark Twain

2.     Mark Twain and Johnson & Johnson:  Mark Twain was a literary rival of Max Adeler, the pen name of one of our early board of directors members, Charles Heber Clark.  It’s been said that Twain drew his inspiration for “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” from one of Clark’s short stories.  Mark Twain was also very interested in science and was a friend of Nikola Tesla.  Tesla once worked for Thomas Alva Edison…who was a friend of Fred Kilmer.

Robert Wood Johnson -- connecting H. G. Wells to Johnson & Johnson

3.    H. G. Wells and Johnson & Johnson:  It’s thought that H. G. Wells got the idea for his famous books about invisible men and time machines from early science fiction author Edward Page Mitchell, whose stories about an invisible man and a time machine predated those of Wells.  Mitchell was a friend of Company founder Robert Wood Johnson.

Queen Victoria: connected to the royal families of Europe, and also connected to Johnson & Johnson! Public domain image of Queen Victoria courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

4.    Queen Victoria of England and Johnson & Johnson: Queen Victoria, one of the longest-reigning British monarchs in history, underwent successful surgery performed by Sir Joseph Lister, and in 1883 she knighted him in recognition of his lifelong work.  Lister’s talk at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 inspired Robert Wood Johnson, who was in the audience, to found Johnson & Johnson with two of his brothers.  (Public domain image of Queen Victoria from Wikimedia Commons is at this link.)

5.    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Johnson & Johnson: Kilmer House readers will remember that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a student of Dr. Joseph Bell in medical school.  Bell, who was the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, was an early champion of sterile surgery and a colleague of Sir Joseph Lister…whose 1876 lecture Company founder Robert Wood Johnson attended.    

Neil Patrick Harris during the taping of the LISTERINE® Antiseptic web documentary, from this blogger’s personal collection.

6.    Neil Patrick Harris and Johnson & Johnson: Actor and all-around cool guy Neil Patrick Harris was part of a web documentary on LISTERINE® Antiseptic done by our consumer operating company.

7.    Rabindranath Tagore and Johnson & Johnson. Tagore, one of the leading lights of Asian literature, earned the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, becoming the first non-European Nobel laureate and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.  His connection to Johnson & Johnson was through the poet Joyce Kilmer, Fred Kilmer’s son, who interviewed Tagore for a lecture series on Tagore’s second trip to the U.S. during the Nineteen Teens.

Annie Kilmer (pictured with a photo of her son Joyce). She connects Paul Robeson to Johnson & Johnson. Photo from our archives.

8.    Paul Robeson and Johnson & Johnson:  Multi-talented actor, singer, athlete, scholar and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson also has a connection to Johnson & Johnson, and it comes from his early years as a student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  During the Nineteen Teens, it was customary to host a tea for Rutgers students who excelled in academics, dramatics or athletics.  (Robeson excelled in all three, but had not been scheduled for a tea.)  Annie Kilmer, wife of Johnson & Johnson director of scientific affairs Fred Kilmer, hosted the tea for Paul Robeson.  Many years later, Robeson repaid Annie Kilmer's work on his behalf by recording a version of "Trees," Joyce Kilmer's most famous poem.  If you want to hear Robeson's magnificent Victrola recording of "Trees," you can do that right here.

  9.    Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Johnson & Johnson: General Robert Wood Johnson was appointed by Roosevelt to head the Smaller War Plants Corporation in Washington, D.C. during World War II, and he received a personal letter from Roosevelt upon returning to Johnson & Johnson.

Letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Robert Wood Johnson, 1943, from our archives.

10.    Film director Mel Brooks and Johnson & Johnson.  No, he never directed any of our commercials, but he did make the classic film Young Frankenstein, which Teri Garr was in….and Teri Garr was also part of a classic BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage commercial.

LISTERINE® Antiseptic: the product that connects us to Kevin Bacon!

11.    Kevin Bacon and Johnson & Johnson.  Because no Six Degrees of Separation game would be complete without the ultimate connection, here’s how Johnson & Johnson is connected to actor Kevin Bacon: Our consumer operating company produced a web documentary about LISTERINE® Antiseptic that featured Neil Patrick Harris…who hosted the 2009 Emmy Awards, which had (wait for it)…Kevin Bacon as a presenter!

If anyone has any more Johnson & Johnson connections, we’d love to hear about them!  Please feel free to leave any additional examples of Six Degrees of Separation Johnson & Johnson Style in the comments section of this post.

Share this article

Read 6 comments
Full name will be displayed as entered.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
By submitting your comments, you agree that your comments may be made available to the public. All comments will be reviewed before posting, and if approved, will be shared publicly on the site. Please do not include any information and/or comments that you would like to remain private. Since this blog is about history, topics that don’t directly relate to the history of Johnson & Johnson and its operating companies won’t be posted.. Issues not related to the history of J&J, including any product complaints, will be forwarded to the appropriate Johnson & Johnson team for follow-up as appropriate. This site will not publish any comments that have inappropriate language... so be nice! We will use the information you submit in accordance with our  Privacy Policy.
Joe Panarisi
MARCH 15, 2012 10:21 AM

I worked with a talent agent in the early 1980's who also happened to be Kevin Bacon's first agent.

Marcia M. Persiano
MARCH 15, 2012 12:06 PM

Margaret, I love your style of writing! As far as degrees of separation, I met Roy Rogers and shook his hand, when I was a child, and I met Julio Iglesias and had my photo taken with him in 1977. That's as far as I've gone.

Thanks for educating us and even making us laugh sometimes!!


Gene Hill
MARCH 19, 2012 12:33 PM

Great article! I trained as a Hospital Chaplain at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. While there I met Governors Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman and President Bill Clinton.


MARCH 19, 2012 12:38 PM

Thanks for the post.
2 is really hard Bacon number to beat. I can do 3 through Kevin Bacon's father, Ed, who worked for City of Philadelphia or 4 through the Hollywood route. Guess I didn't win this one.