Entrepreneur Stories

December 12, 2023

3 mins

From Antiseptic Pioneers to Global Healthcare Leaders

In 1886, the collaborative efforts of three brothers—Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson, and Edward Mead Johnson—marked the inception of a company driven by a unique mission. Focused on understanding airborne germs and diseases, their goal was to revolutionize post-surgical cleanliness, moving beyond the traditional use of carbolic acid in operating rooms.

Formally incorporated in 1887 as Johnson & Johnson with a humble start of 14 employees, the company became a trailblazer in 1888 by mass-producing sterile surgical supplies. A year later, it introduced two groundbreaking products: "Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment," the first widely used guide for injury care, and innovative ready-made first aid kits, gaining popularity beyond the medical field.

Source: Johnson & Johnson

The company's trajectory expanded in 1894 as it ventured into maternity and baby care, establishing itself as the "heritage baby" business. This expansion included enduring products such as baby powder and maternity kits, addressing antiseptic and safety concerns during childbirth. The introduction of "Lister's Sanitary Diapers" in 1904 further solidified Johnson & Johnson's footprint in the baby care market.

Tragedy struck in 1910 with the passing of Robert Wood Johnson, succeeded by James Wood Johnson. World War I saw the company's factories scaling production to meet wartime demands for sterile surgical products. As the 1918 flu pandemic unfolded, Johnson & Johnson responded by inventing an epidemic mask to mitigate the spread of the flu. The following year marked the company's global expansion with the opening of the Gilmour Plant near Montreal.

Source: Wikimedia

In 1924, Johnson & Johnson took its first step into overseas manufacturing with a facility in Slough, England. The ensuing decades, from the 1930s to the 1950s, witnessed the evolution of the company's corporate structure under Robert Wood Johnson II, decentralizing into specialized units such as Surgikos and Ethicon.

In 1943, as the company prepared for its initial public offering (IPO), Robert Wood Johnson penned "Our Credo," a defining document shaping the company's ethos. The IPO was completed in 1944.

The 1960s and 1970s marked Johnson & Johnson's strategic focus on growing its pharmaceuticals business, encompassing treatments for various health issues. In 1982, the company played a pivotal role in pioneering tamper-resistant pill bottles following a tragic incident involving Tylenol pills laced with cyanide. Investigations revealed the tampering occurred at drug stores, not Johnson & Johnson’s factories.

Source: Johnson & Johnson

Since the 1980s, the company continued its growth in medical research, with notable inventions and acquisitions, including Pfizer Consumer Healthcare in 2006. However, Johnson & Johnson faced challenges, such as the 2018 Reuters report revealing asbestos in its baby powder, leading to ongoing lawsuits.

Despite the obstacles faced, Johnson & Johnson remains a significant multinational corporation with a history of over 130 years. The company proudly oversees 495 subsidiary entities and maintains a strong financial standing, solidifying its position as a health and wellness sector leader.


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