Who Was Robert Wood Johnson?
June 26, 2013
Since Annette A. has retired, it is left to me to explore the history of the people whose names we know, by street, landmark, location, fame, or fortune. I’ve always wondered about Robert Wood Johnson, whose name is repeated so often in the introductions before programs on PBS. You can often hear something like, “Additional support was made available by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”
I first Googled “Robert Wood Johnson.” I was in hopes of finding information in a source other than Wikipedia, and I did! I was pleased to find a citation for Johnson in American National Biography Online, the digital version of a venerable and authoritative print source. (My apologies to Wikipedia, a source in which I find lots of helpful information.)
Contributor Ann T. Keene writes that Johnson, born in April 1893, was the son of one of the founders of Johnson and Johnson, originally a surgical dressings company. Rather than going straight to the top, Johnson worked under his uncle James W. Johnson, beginning as a factory worker and rising through the ranks of the company. As a young vice-president, he persuaded the company to expand and diversify. Johnson is responsible for adding Band-Aids and Johnson’s Baby Cream to the line of products. J& J also acquired Ortho Pharmaceutical and McNeil Laboratories, among other firms during Johnson’s time as vice-president. By the time of his death in 1968, J&J had ninety plants and perhaps ninety-thousand employees worldwide.
Johnson served in the Army Medical Corps during the 1920s, during World War II in the Army Ordnance Department, and finally as the head of a wartime agency called the Smaller War Plants Corporation. He supported the creation of small defense plants, but left government service due to frustration with government bureaucracy. (Okay, I can’t imagine how that could happen!)
He was a tennis player, yachtsman, pilot, Episcopalian and Republican, and a socialite married three times. He left a bequest of over a billion dollars, and with $2 billion more in grants, the foundation formed after his death continues to support basic health care for people in need, and underwrites the cost of health-related programs on PBS and in other media.
Now we know.
Check out American National Biography online. The easiest way is to use it from our website. It is one of our subscription research databases. You’ll find it under the “biography” heading, or you may pull it up alphabetically.
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