George E. Johnson Sr.

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George E. Johnson Sr.
Born (1927-06-12) June 12, 1927 (age 96)
Alma materWendell Phillips High School
  • Businessman
  • entrepreneur
Years active1954–present
Known for
Joan Henderson
(m. 1950; died 2019)

George Ellis Johnson Sr. (born June 12, 1927) is an American businessman and entrepreneur. Johnson is the founder of Johnson Products Company, an international cosmetics empire headquartered in Chicago, Illinois which created products such as Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen.[1][2][3][4]


Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Richton, Mississippi, in a three-room sharecropper's shack.[5] When he was two, he moved to Chicago with his mother, Priscilla, after his parents had separated. At the age of eight, while attending Doolittle Elementary School, Johnson also started work as a shoe shine boy. Johnson later attended Wendell Phillips High School but dropped out to work full-time jobs.[6] During the day he was a bus boy and in the evenings he set pins at a local bowling alley.[7] In 1944, Johnson took a job working for Samuel B. Fuller, who owned a cosmetics firm, as a production chemist.


In 1954, at the encouragement of co-worker, Johnson left the Fuller company and founded Johnson Products with his wife Joan,[8] focusing on the African American male hair care market. Johnson borrowed $250 from a bank and another $250 from a friend to finance the venture.[5] The company's first product was Ultra Wave, a hair relaxer for men. In 1957, Ultra Sheen, a revolutionary hair straightener that could easily be used in the home, was introduced for women.

During the next quarter century, more product lines were introduced like Afro Sheen.[5] Afro-Sheen, one of Johnson's best-known products, was released in the late 1960s, at a time when the "Afro" became a popular hairstyle for African Americans. Over the next few decades, Johnson Products continued to grow, focusing its efforts on not only its products line but on training cosmetologists on the proper usage as well. In 1964, Johnson founded Independence Bank, and during the 1970s he became the exclusive sponsor behind the nationally syndicated dance show Soul Train. In 1971, Johnson Products became the first African American-owned company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange.[5] That same year, Johnson became the first African American to serve on the board of directors of Commonwealth Edison.


Johnson was married to Joan Betty Henderson, whom he met while they were students at Phillips High School. Johnson and Henderson wed in May 1950 and divorced in 1989. The couple remarried in 1995.[9] Together they had four children; Eric, Joan, John and George E. Johnson Jr.[10][11][9]

Awards and honors[edit]

Johnson received the Horatio Alger Award in 1981.[12] and the Babson Medal in 1983[13] Johnson received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree from College of the Holy Cross in 1975 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Babson College in 1976.[14]


  1. ^ The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights ... (edited by Mary Lou Finley, Bernard LaFayette Jr., James R. Ralph Jr., Pam Smith) Archived February 15, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  2. ^ RetroFan #3 (edited by Michael Eury) Archived February 15, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  3. ^ Jet, Nov 12, 2001 Archived February 15, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  4. ^ Black Enterprise, June 1973 Archived February 15, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d "The Father of Hair Care". Johnson Products. Archived from the original on March 31, 2008. Retrieved June 19, 2008.
  6. ^ "George Johnson Biography. Interview December 18, 2003". The History Makers. Archived from the original on July 20, 2006. Retrieved August 9, 2008.
  7. ^ "June 16". The African American Registry. Archived from the original on June 29, 2009. Retrieved June 19, 2008.
  8. ^ McCoy, Frank (May 1, 1992). "Johnson Products Co. regroups after a family row". Black Enterprise. Archived from the original on April 5, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (September 10, 2019). "Joan Johnson, Whose Company Broke a Racial Barrier, Dies at 89". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on March 22, 2022. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  10. ^ Chicago Defender, In Memoriam, Joan B. Johnson (16 October 1929; 6 September 2019) Archived October 29, 2020, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  11. ^ Chicago Sun-Times, Joan Johnson, co-founder of trailblazing black hair care company, dies at 89, Launched in 1954 with her husband, Johnson Products would become the first black-owned company traded on the American Stock Exchange Archived November 17, 2019, at the Wayback Machine.Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  12. ^ Members Archived May 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ General Awards Archived October 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Honorary Degrees Archived August 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine