OUR STORY

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Chapters
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    1861-1875

    Before Johnson & Johnson

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    1876

    Turning Point

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    1886-1888

    Founding Johnson & Johnson

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    1888-1890

    Towards Modern Medicine

 

Our Beginning

Explore the story of how
Johnson & Johnson revolutionized healthcare

 
 
Chapter 1Before Johnson & Johnson

Future Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson began his professional training as a pharmaceutical apprentice.

 
 
1861

Sixteen-year-old Robert Wood Johnson first developed an interest in healthcare during the American Civil War.

 
 
1861

In total, the war claimed upwards of 720,000 American lives, the vast majority due to infection and disease. To limit the spread of infection, doctors performed limb amputations at record speed. They could be completed in under three minutes.

 
 
1861

These near-constant operations were performed by surgeons who didn’t wash their hands or clean their tools between patients. Infection was common and often fatal.

 
 
1861

While his two older brothers fought in the Civil War, Johnson was too young to serve. So, his mother secured him an apprenticeship at her family’s pharmacy, Wood & Tittamer, in Poughkeepsie, New York.

 
 
1861

There, he learned the business of mixing medicated plasters, which launched his career in the growing industry of medical products.

 
 
1864

Following his apprenticeship, Johnson’s first stop was New York City, where he worked as a salesman of drug products.

 
 
1873

After working in the industry for several years, Johnson co-founded his own company with George Seabury in 1873. The New York-based Seabury & Johnson quickly became a respected business known for its medicated plasters.

 
 
1875

The company rapidly expanded, and within a few short years, had become one of the most widely recognized medicated plaster brands in the world.

 

Explore the
Role of Women Workers

 
 
Chapter 2Turning Point

Robert Wood Johnson's visit to the 1876 World's Fair redefined the course of his career.

 
 
1876

Johnson was among the 10 million people who visited the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He was in part drawn to the World’s Fair by its International Medical Congress, the largest gathering of doctors in American history to date.

 
 
1876

Johnson represented his company at the fair. It was there that he listened to Dr. Joseph Lister explain his radical, new procedure: antiseptic surgery.

 

Lister’s Sterile Surgery

 
 
1876

While many doctors in the audience were skeptical of Lister’s surgery, Johnson was convinced that it was the future of medicine.

 
 
Chapter 3 Founding Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson launched as an innovative startup and became the industry standard.

 
 
1886

So inspired by Lister’s antiseptic methods, Johnson parted ways with his business partner, Seabury, and started Johnson & Johnson with his two younger brothers, Edward Mead and James Wood in 1886. Their company manufactured the world’s first mass-produced, sterile surgical supplies.

 
 

The three brothers formed a formidable team.

 
 

Robert brought to the table his business acumen and product design expertise.

 
 

Edward’s strength lay in advertising.

 
 

James was a talented engineer who designed inventive machines.

 
 
1886

On a brisk January day in 1886, James found himself aboard a train passing through New Brunswick, New Jersey. He looked out his window and noticed a “for rent” sign on a nearby factory building.

 
 
1886

That building became Johnson & Johnson’s first home. It opened its doors with just 14 employees: eight women and six men. Today, the company’s world headquarters remains in New Brunswick.

 

Look Inside Early Factories

 
 
1886

Johnson & Johnson manufactured the world’s first sterile surgical products, including sutures, absorbent cotton, and gauze. Ready-made dressings decreased infection rates and saved lives.

 
 
Chapter 4 Towards Modern Medicine

In its first years, Johnson & Johnson pushed medicine forward through cutting-edge products and ideas.

 
 
1888

The Johnson brothers soon discovered that manufacturing sterile supplies was not enough—they needed to teach doctors how to use them. In 1888, the company published Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment, a how-to guide on antiseptic surgery.

 

Explore Modern Methods

 
 
1888

Itinerant salesmen traveled far and wide to distribute Modern Methods across the U.S. Within a matter of months, they’d given out 85,000 copies to doctors and pharmacists.

 
 
1888

Modern Methods was hailed as a major contribution to the field. It also served as a sales guide for Johnson & Johnson products, which were listed among the back pages.

 
 
1888

The guide helped spread germ theory and antiseptic surgical methods. Just 13 years earlier, in 1875, surgeons had operated in street clothes and worked with unclean hands.

 
 
1889

By 1889, most surgeons had adopted Lister’s methods. They operated in sterile robes. Here, a modern surgical team wears white uniforms and uses sterilized tools.

 
 
1890

Johnson & Johnson helped make sterile surgery a reality. Since its founding in 1886, the company has revolutionized the field of medicine, manufacturing the world’s first mass-produced antiseptic medical supplies.

 
 
1890

During the 20th century, the company continued to refine these supplies and reach new milestones in the field. Through product innovation and strategic acquisitions, Johnson & Johnson has become a world leader in healthcare.

 
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  • Fighting Infectious Disease

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  • Our Commitment to Women

  • Library of Congress
  • Library of Congress
  • U-M Library Digital Collections. Harper's Weekly
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Photographer unknown/Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.625
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Library of Congress
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Library of Congress
  • MOLLUS-Massachusetts collection of Civil War photographic prints, U.S Army Heritage and Education center, Carlisle, PA
  • Library of Congress
  • Philadelphia Free Library, Centennial Photographic Co.. Opening day: the orators.
  • Archive.org
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  • Centennial International Exhibition. 1876. Fairmount Park Philadelphia, c. 1876. Library Company of Philadelphia
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  • Alec Thomas Archive
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  • New Brunswick Free Public Library
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  • Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic), Thomas Eakins, 1875, Gift of the Alumni Association to Jefferson Medical College in 1878 and purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2007.
  • The Agnew Clinic, by Thomas Eakins, 1889. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Art Collection
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives
  • Archive.org
  • Johnson & Johnson Archives