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Giving Back When Disaster Strikes

From the beginning, helping communities in times of need was at the heart of the company’s mission to make lifesaving healthcare products. During the 1880s, when the company was founded, trains and telegraph lines connected the country, speeding up travel and the spread of news. The era also witnessed the rise of a sensational reporting style known as yellow journalism, which brought harrowing human interest stories to Americans’ attention for the first time. These included stories of natural disasters. When word of these disasters reached New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson rushed to act. From its earliest years, the company possessed an unwavering commitment to disaster relief. Today, its efforts have expanded alongside its influence and resources: when disaster strikes, Johnson & Johnson is there.

 

 

The beginning of Johnson & Johnson’s long heritage of disaster relief can be traced back to the Galveston Hurricane in 1900. Galveston, Texas, was a thriving port city and one of the wealthiest in the United States when a category 4 storm struck on September 8, 1900.

 

The storm stranded ships miles from port.

Image courtesy: Library of Congress

It took residents months to sort through the wreckage in the wake of the Galveston Hurricane.

Image courtesy: Underwood & Underwood, Library of Congress

Through weather warnings had been issued before the hurricane made landfall, most residents were utterly unprepared for the storm’s magnitude. Fifteen-foot waves pummeled the city, flooding buildings and homes. The storm also carried boats anchored at port miles inland. Ultimately, the storm killed upwards of 8,000 people—20 percent of the city’s total population. The hurricane was also one of the first natural disasters to garner national attention. Journalists rushed to Galveston to report on the damage. Only days later, when news of the storm reached New Brunswick, Johnson & Johnson hurried to send supplies and aid to survivors. The company “immediately forwarded emergency supplies by expressing at their own expense,” reported Scientific Director Fred Kilmer, to restock hospitals and pharmacies. Today, the Galveston Hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

“During this sudden flood,” the New York Times reported on Galveston, “a most terrible storm was raging.”

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

During the next six years, Johnson & Johnson continued to grow. The company expanded beyond sterile surgical supplies, manufacturing a range of consumer and public health products. So, when a powerful earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter Scale rocked the Bay Area in 1906, the company could give even more to help survivors. The quake destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure, including its water mains. It also ignited a series of fires, which took firefighters three days to extinguish and reduced 25 percent of the city to ash. In total, the disaster claimed about 3,000 lives and left 400,000 San Franciscans homeless. Due to the telegraph and the efforts of the company’s San Francisco sales agents, Waldron & Dietrich, news of the earthquake reached New Brunswick within hours and, before the day’s end, Johnson & Johnson had mobilized. The company sent railcars to San Francisco full of sterile surgical supplies and other products. As the federal government, Americans, and private companies rushed to help, Johnson & Johnson stood apart. It gave $1,000 (nearly $30,000 today) to the relief effort along with supplies for medical facilities to treat the injured; the company supplied the largest amount of medical supplies sent to help San Francisco. Additionally, company employees took up their own collection and sent donations to help survivors.   

Because the quake hit before dawn, many residents were asleep and died in their homes.

Image courtesy: Library of Congress

Over the next century, Johnson & Johnson became a world leader in healthcare and continued its tradition of disaster relief, helping communities rebuild in the United States and around the world. In 1943, President Robert Wood Johnson II formalized the company’s commitment to patients, consumers, employees and the community in Our Credo, which articulated the importance of corporate responsibility. Amidst the company’s rising success, Our Credo remained Johnson & Johnson’s moral compass.

Today, the company’s global partnerships and assistance that help neighborhoods and countries rebuild in the wake of natural disaster span six continents. So when devastating typhoons, tsunamis, and flooding struck countries in the Asia-Pacific region in 2009 and again in 2011, Johnson & Johnson sent help. And when Hurricane Sandy struck the Tristate Area in 2012, the company sent aid and encouraged employees to volunteer to help families rebuild their homes and communities. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013, Johnson & Johnson was there to rebuild playgrounds, feed survivors, and send and distribute supplies to the 2.5 million Filipinos affected by the tragedy. Johnson & Johnson’s giving takes many forms—supplies, aid, food, and infrastructure creation—all with the goal of restoring the health, lives, and communities affected by natural disasters. The company also helps fund disaster preparedness training for the future in communities from San Francisco to Tokyo, Japan.

A child enjoys a new playground after Typhoon Haiyan. In partnership with Johnson & Johnson, the Department of Education and Play Pilipinas built a playground to restore the childhood of kids in Tacloban after the hurricane.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

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