February 9, 2007

Johnson & Johnson

And the man behind the brand is...
Robert Johnson

A man laid out on a 19th-century operating table faced roughly the same chance at survival as the man riding in a cavalry charge. Germs and sterilization were unknown when Robert Johnson left the Pennsylvania countryside as a sixteen year-old in 1861 to apprentice in a Poughkeepsie apothecary.

Johnson worked in New York as an importer and salesman of drug products until 1873 when he entered into a stormy partnership with George Seabury.
Their relationship was strained further when Johnson brought his younger brothers, James and Edward Mead, into the Brooklyn pharmaceutical firm.

By 1886 the three brothers were ready to start their own medical products company. On a train ride through New Jersey James Johnson spotted a "To Let" sign on a four-story red brick building in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Johnson & Johnson, with 14 employees, sprouted from the fourth floor of that old wallpaper factory.

James Johnson designed and built the machinery. Mead Johnson handled sales and advertising. Robert Johnson was president, financier, and guiding leader.
He owned 40% of the business with each of his brothers holding an equal 30% share.

The first catalog of Johnson & Johnson products was offered on June 1, 1887. Fourteen of the 32 pages were devoted to Robert Johnson's medicated plasters, utilizing India rubber. From the dawn of civilization people sought healants in roots, herbs and plants. Sawdust plasters were devised as a way to keep medications in close contact with the skin.

Johnson was an early advocate of Joseph Lister's theories on germs and their role in disease. He actively promoted the use of antiseptic, sterilized surgical dressings. With the help of Fred Kilmer, owner of the nearby Opera House Pharmacy, Johnson & Johnson published an influential booklet called "Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment." The booklet was proclaimed as a major scientific work educating the public on germs and the vital importance of heat sterilization in surgery. And, of course, the back of the booklet contained descriptions of Johnson & Johnson sterilized bandages, sutures and other products. Eventually four million copies of the booklet would be distributed around the world.

Sales grew steadily. Robert Johnson was constantly looking for new health care products to wear the trademark Johnson & Johnson red cross. Salesmen, known as "travelers", were often trained physicians who brought back ideas from discussions with clients. If the product materialized it was often named for the discover: "Dr. Simpson's Intranasal Tampon", for instance.

Baby powder came to the company in 1890 when a physician wrote to the company that one of his patients complained of skin irritation from a medicated plaster. Kilmer, by now the head of company research, suggested sending him a small tin of Italian talc to help relieve the itching. Soon the powder was included with certain plasters and then sent to mothers as part of maternity and obstetric kits for home births.

Robert Johnson, tall and stout with penetrating brown eyes, worked in every facet of the business, even presiding over the daily ritual of opening the company's morning mail. In 1890 he developed "First Aid Kits" for railroad workers who were frantically connecting America. The Railway Station and Factory Supply Case was a large wooden box designed to "prevent an extension of the injury rather than its treatment." Johnson's "first aid" concept was adopted by thousands of first aid training programs throughout society.

Johnson & Johnson's heat sterilized bandages and absorbent sterile cotton gauze dressings served on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War in 1898. In the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900 Johnson & Johnson replaced all damaged company goods at cost. After the San Francisco earthquake Johnson canceled all druggist invoices under $100 to keep their products flowing to the needy.

Robert Johnson atypically left his office early on January 31, 1910 complaining of not feeling well. He died a week later from Bright's disease, an acute kidney ailment. James Johnson took over for his brother saying, "My brother's policy is my policy."

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