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History of Johnson & Johnson: Timeline and Facts

Johnson & Johnson is involved with far more than you might think, from baby oil to surgical suites.
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Johnson & Johnson makes baby oil. They make their famously "no more tears" shampoo and the name-brand Band Aids that you reach for when you nick yourself.

They also make drugs for the treatment of autoimmune disease and anti-tumor medication. They have divisions that make medical devices, cancer treatments and drugs for mental health disorders.

This is one of the most well-known brands in the U.S., and most customers have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Johnson & Johnson Founding

Johnson & Johnson  (JNJ)  began as a small company that created surgical dressings.

In 1886, the pharmacist Robert Wood Johnson formed a new company with his brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson.

The brothers founded their company based on Joseph Lister’s then-recent research into the nature of airborne germs and infectious disease. The new company would develop sterilization techniques and surgical dressings, hoping to create a more effective form of post-operative sterilization than Lister’s approach of spraying operating rooms with carbolic acid. The brothers formally incorporated their company in 1887 as Johnson & Johnson.

In 1888 the company produced two seminal products: a book called "Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment," the first mainstream guide to treating injuries, and innovative ready-made first aid kits based off the company’s cotton gauze dressings. While "Modern Methods" was well received in the medical community, Jonson & Johnson’s first-aid kit quickly became popular among industrial workers and general consumers alike.

Soon after, in 1894, Johnson & Johnson launched its line of maternity and baby-oriented products, sometimes called the company’s “heritage baby” business. It did so by releasing two products: baby powder, still for sale to this day, and maternity kits designed to make childbirth more antiseptic and safer.

Johnson & Johnson’s Development

Once established, Johnson & Johnson built a reputation for creating improved, mass produced versions of common health care and sanitation products. Among other achievements, the company produced the first cheap, commonly available sanitary menstrual pads for women, the first mass-produced dental floss, and some of the first oil, powder and shampoo for babies and infants. It created antiseptic, inexpensive surgical sutures and sterilized plaster for closing post-treatment wounds. In 1931, Johnson & Johnson began to market Ortho-Gynol, America’s first prescription contraceptive.

Based on the success of its original product line, Johnson & Johnson also developed a brand in producing the first mass-market first-aid kits and manuals. In 1921, these kits began to include their newly released product: the Band-Aid.

Together, these developments established the company’s brand as both a consumer-level healthcare firm and a provider of hospital-grade medical materials.

Over the course of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Johnson & Johnson developed the corporate structure that it still uses today. Then-chief executive Robert Wood Johnson II turned the one company into a decentralized family of companies, all operating under the Johnson & Johnson corporation. Each different unit specializes in different aspects of its business, such as Surgikos’ specialty in surgical packs and Ethicon’s line of suture products.

In 1944, Johnson & Johnson went public.

Johnson & Johnson Today

It’s unusual for a company’s modern story to begin 60 years in the past, but Johnson & Johnson, as we know it today, arguably began in 1959. That year the company bought two pharmaceutical research companies: McNeil Laboratories and Cilag Chemie AG. Two years later it acquired Jansenn Pharmaceutica N.V. This created Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals and research division, a critical part of its corporate structure to this day.

It also gave the company one of its other core product lines: McNeil’s non-aspirin pain reliever Tylenol. In keeping with its other lines of business, Johnson & Johnson particularly marketed their new over-the-counter pain reliever to pediatricians.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Johnson & Johnson focused in particular on growing its pharmaceuticals business. The company developed treatments for a wide range of issues, from pain relief to mental disorders and vision care, at the same time as it continued to push its medical device products ranging from surgical implements to home bandages.

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson helped pioneer the tamper-resistant pill bottle after seven people died from taking Tylenol pills which had been laced with cyanide. An investigation later revealed that the pills had been poisoned at the drug stores where they were sold, not at Johnson & Johnson’s factory, leading the FDA to develop the first standards for pharmaceutical packaging.

Since the 1980s, Johnson & Johnson has continued to grow in most areas of medical research and development. Just a few of the company’s inventions include the first disposable contact lens, mainstream drug treatments for depression and schizophrenia, drug treatments for HIV/AIDS, and the first coronary stent. In 2006, Johnson & Johnson’s history came full circle, when it bought Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, acquiring, among other brands, Joseph Lister’s own product Listerine.

At time of writing the company had more than 250 individual subsidiary firms working in virtually every field of medicine, with sales of more than $70 billion per year.

Johnson & Johnson Timeline

  • 1886 – The Johnson brothers found their company based on the discoveries of Joseph Lister.
  • 1887 – Johnson & Johnson is formally incorporated.
  • 1888 – The company produces its first two products: a mainstream manual on treating injuries and the first mass-market first-aid kit.
  • 1894 – Johnson & Johnson begins its line of maternity and infant-care products, a brand which continues to identify the company to this day.
  • 1921 – The company releases one of its most enduring products: the Band-Aid.
  • 1931 – Johnson & Johnson releases America’s first prescription contraceptive.
  • 1944 – The company goes public.
  • 1959 – With the acquisition of two research laboratories, Johnson & Johnson fully enters the pharmaceutical business. Its first product quickly becomes one of its flagships: an over-the-counter pain reliever called Tylenol.
  • 1982 – Johnson & Johnson helps the FDA to develop the tamper-resistant pill bottle.
  • 1994 – Johnson & Johnson invents the coronary stent, changing the modern approach to cardiology.
  • 2006 – The company acquires Pfizer PFE Consumer Healthcare, bringing its history full circle as Joseph Lister’s Listerine product comes under Johnson & Johnson’s umbrella.