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Edward Mead Johnson: Sales and Advertising Leadership

Johnson & Johnson co-founder Edward Mead Wood Johnson (1852-1934) was born April 23, 1852 at the family’s farm in Crystal Lake, Pennsylvania. He was the brother of Johnson & Johnson co-founders Robert Wood Johnson and James Wood Johnson.

Edward Mead Johnson began his career as a schoolteacher in a rural school for a year before leaving to study law at the University of Michigan, graduating with a law degree in 1876.  In 1878, at age 26, he joined his brother Robert’s partnership of Seabury & Johnson as a “traveler,” or salesman for several months before moving to the company’s advertising department.  In late 1885, he and his brothers left Seabury & Johnson to start Johnson & Johnson.  Along with James Wood Johnson, Edward Mead Johnson is one of the two founders represented in the Johnson & Johnson name.

Edward Mead Johnson

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Edward Mead Johnson was in charge of sales and marketing at Johnson & Johnson, working out of the company’s early New York City office, first at 23 Cedar Street – a long, narrow office space two blocks from Wall Street, and then a few years later, around the corner at 92 William Street, while his brother James oversaw manufacturing operations in New Brunswick.  One of Edward Mead Johnson’s responsibilities was to prepare the sales catalogs and price lists for the new business. 

Johnson & Johnson New York Office, 92 William Street.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

In 1886, Manhattan was still in the process of urbanizing, with farmland and farmhouses giving way to graded streets and stone and brick buildings, along with new skyscrapers.  Horse-drawn streetcars, carriages and taxis filled the streets, along with pedestrians. Lower Manhattan was the city’s – and the nation’s – economic center, with many firms locating their administrative offices in the Wall Street area, and Johnson & Johnson did the same. On Tuesday, October 26, 1886, the city celebrated the dedication of the brand-new Statue of Liberty in New York harbor with a parade and a ceremony led by President Grover Cleveland. The parade wove its way from Madison Square, down Fifth Avenue to Lower Manhattan; when it reached Wall Street, just two streets over from the Johnson & Johnson office, traders in the New York Stock Exchange threw ticker tape from the windows, inaugurating the first ticker tape parade to commemorate an important event.  The sounds of the celebration would have been unmistakable from the Johnson & Johnson office, and it’s possible that Edward Mead Johnson and the office staff could have taken a break from their working day to witness this historic occasion in person.

Page from Johnson & Johnson salesman’s portfolio, late 1800s.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

The arrival of elder brother Robert Wood Johnson in September of 1886 brought his business expertise and much-needed capital into the new firm of Johnson & Johnson, leading Edward Mead Johnson to write enthusiastically to customers about the influx of energy into the new business.

Early Johnson & Johnson ad with handwritten comments by Edward Mead Johnson.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

As the business grew, Edward Mead Johnson continued to focus on leading the company’s sales efforts and on his role as secretary and then treasurer of the company’s board of directors. Beginning in the 1880s, Johnson & Johnson marketed a line of products to aid digestion, based on papaya.  Edward Mead Johnson and Scientific Director Fred Kilmer shared an interested in those product lines, devoting time and energy to them. Edward Mead Johnson’s increasing interest in these products was based on his experience as a father: he had an infant son with digestive difficulties.

In 1898, increasingly focused on the company’s products to improve digestion, Edward Mead Johnson left Johnson & Johnson, taking with him the company’s digestive products business. Edward Mead Johnson’s new company began focusing on products to help infants who were unable to digest milk.  Today, that company, now called Mead Johnson Nutrition, is a leading global company in the field of infant and child nutrition, illustrating Edward Mead Johnson’s share of the brothers’ talent for starting successful businesses and focusing on meeting unmet needs. 

Ad for JOHNSON’S® Digestive Tablets, late 19th century.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

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