Please rotate your deviceWe do not support in landscape mode, please use the app in portrait mode for the best experience

James Wood Johnson: A Practical Problem Solver

Johnson & Johnson co-founder James Wood Johnson (1856-1932) was the younger brother of Johnson & Johnson founders Robert Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson.  James Wood Johnson was born March 17, 1856 at Crystal Lake, Pennsylvania, the 11th and youngest child in the Johnson family. A talented engineer, James Wood Johnson began as an apprentice surveyor with the Pennsylvania Coal Company before joining his older brother Robert at Seabury & Johnson at age 22.  Starting in sales, James quickly moved to manufacturing, where he designed and built the machinery that enabled Seabury & Johnson to mass produce its products.  He was promoted to Superintendent of Manufacturing at Seabury & Johnson, in charge of the organization’s manufacturing operations.  In late 1885, along with his brothers, James Wood Johnson left Seabury & Johnson to start Johnson & Johnson. 

James Wood Johnson

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

In January of 1886, James Wood Johnson was a passenger on a westbound train from New York to Pennsylvania.  En route, the train stopped in the small city of New Brunswick, New Jersey, home to Rutgers University and a variety of local industries, many of which would become suppliers of packaging to Johnson & Johnson.  Johnson looked out the window of the train and saw a four-story brick building available for rent, located about 150 feet from the street-level railroad tracks. Johnson rented the fourth floor of the building for the brothers’ new company. New Brunswick, with its central location between New York and Philadelphia, as well as the transportation afforded by the railroad, the Raritan River and Delaware-Raritan Canal, was an excellent location for the new business.

Map of Johnson & Johnson campus, 1908, showing first Johnson & Johnson building from 1886 at upper left -- marked No. 22.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

The company’s first building – whose site remains part of Johnson & Johnson’s New Brunswick campus today – was a small, tin roofed former wallpaper factory with arched windows, dating originally to the 1860s. While Edward Mead Johnson set up the company’s sales office at 32 Cedar Street in Manhattan, James Wood Johnson assembled the company’s manufacturing operations in New Brunswick, designing and building manufacturing machinery and hiring employees.  A 200-horsepower engine in the basement provided power for the new company’s manufacturing equipment. Johnson & Johnson began operations in this building with 14 employees in 1886 – eight women and six men, all hired by James Wood Johnson. One of those first eight women employees, M. S. Denman, would be promoted to supervise one of the company’s manufacturing departments.

Illustration of first Johnson & Johnson building, 1886

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

On March 25, 1886, James Wood Johnson wrote the first check from Johnson & Johnson to John Ware, the freight master for the Pennsylvania Railroad, for the shipping of raw materials, signifying the beginning of the company’s manufacturing operations.  Johnson’s distinctive way of writing the company name on the check – with the ampersand connected to the second “J” –evolved into the distinctive Johnson & Johnson script logo, based on his handwriting. As the company grew and expanded in New Brunswick, James Wood Johnson continued to lead manufacturing, designing additional manufacturing machinery and working with Scientific Director Fred Kilmer to design the company’s pioneering sterile manufacturing facilities, as well as holding patents for product packaging design.

First check from Johnson & Johnson, March 25, 1886, signed by James Wood Johnson.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

When Robert Wood Johnson passed away in 1910, James Wood Johnson was named president of the company, a position he held until 1932. Under his leadership, Johnson & Johnson continued its steady growth, supplying dressings, bandages and battlefield wound treatments during World War I and introducing products such as BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages in 1921.

James Wood Johnson, early 20th century.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Add your comment here

Add new comment