Robert Wood Johnson I

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Robert Wood Johnson I
Robert Wood Johnson 1st (1887).jpg
BornFebruary 20, 1845
DiedFebruary 7, 1910(1910-02-07) (aged 64)
OccupationFounder of Johnson & Johnson
Spouse(s)Ellen Cutler (m. 1880–?)
Evangeline Brewster Armstrong
ChildrenRoberta Johnson
John Seward Johnson I (1895–1983)
Robert Wood Johnson II (1893–1968)
Evangeline Johnson Merrill (1897–1990)

Robert Wood Johnson I (February 20, 1845 – February 7, 1910) was an American industrialist. He was also one of the three brothers who founded Johnson & Johnson.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. His father was Sylvester Johnson III,[1] and his mother was Frances Louisa Wood. Johnson grew up with two siblings: James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson.


In 1861, Johnson accepted an apprenticeship in Poughkeepsie, New York from his uncle James Wood to work for the apothecary of Wood & Tittmer. This was to become his training for a lifelong career. He later left Wood & Tittmer in 1864, to work in New York City for Roushton & Aspinwall.


While working for Rouston & Aspinwall, Johnson met George J. Seabury and they decided to leave the firm and go into business together under the name of Seabury & Johnson. Both men were interested in Joseph Lister's discovery of the implications of sterile surgery and tried to make products that would assist in the operating room. Johnson worked 12-hour days to try to invent aseptic surgical equipment. By 1878, the firm was making $10,000 a month (or in 2017 dollars $258,046.31.)

However, Seabury and Johnson could not agree on how to distribute the profits of the firm. Seabury also did not approve of having Johnson's brother, James Wood Johnson, in the firm. In 1880, Johnson sold his shares to Seabury, and agreed to not go into the medical business for ten years.

Johnson & Johnson[edit]

Meanwhile, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson started a family business called Johnson & Johnson. However, the firm was struggling to stay afloat, as it didn't have enough capital for a startup company. While the two brothers were going at it alone, Seabury was unable to pay RWJ the monthly payments that had been agreed upon when Johnson left the partnership. Seabury agreed to let Johnson re-enter the medical industry if Seabury could cease making the monthly payments. Johnson agreed, and joined his brothers' firm, providing the capital for a fresh start.

The new partnership gave Johnson half of the company's shares in return for management of the company. His brothers would receive thirty percent of the company. Johnson worked all hours of the day, going back and forth from the factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey to the office in New York, and by early 1888, Johnson & Johnson was making $25,000 a month.


Dr. Frederick Barnett Kilmer owned a local pharmacy in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Johnson met Kilmer in early 1887, and developed a lifelong friendship. After meeting Johnson, Kilmer became more involved in Johnson & Johnson. He eventually became an employee and he would introduce one of the first medical research laboratories.

Kilmer was responsible for making many of the innovations in sterilized dressings. The first marketing items Kilmer introduced were medical manuals, guides for how to react when injured on board trains, such as when feet are squashed or when legs are broken at train stations or depots.

In time, Kilmer would influence most of America with his new products. By the late 19th century, railroads had taken most of the nation by storm. Americans were traveling more and farther than ever. To address the medical needs of travelers, Kilmer decided to introduce first-aid kits. The Red Cross symbol became as well known as the bald eagle. Soon, people believed that the first-aid kits were as important to their daily lives as railroads, light bulbs, and family. It became an American way of life to grab a first-aid kit when in need of help.

In 1890, Kilmer received a letter from a colleague asking for advice on treating a skin irritation on one of his patients. The patient had used medicated plasters and it was assumed that the plaster caused the irritation. Kilmer sent him a small tin of Italian talc. With the success of this treatment, Johnson & Johnson started including containers of talc with its plasters.

Personal life[edit]

Evangeline Brewster Johnson (Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, 1922)

In 1880, Johnson married Ellen Cutler. They had one child: Roberta Johnson.

Johnson later married Evangeline Brewster Armstrong. They had three children: John Seward Johnson I, Robert Wood Johnson II, and Evangeline Johnson.[2] His daughter Evangeline married composer Leopold Stokowski by whom she had two children.

In 1910, Johnson died of chronic kidney disease (Bright's disease) at the age of 64.


  1. ^ "Person Details for Sylvester Johnson, "United States Census, 1850" —". Retrieved 2015-07-30.
  2. ^ Cook, Joan (1990-06-18). "Evangeline Johnson Merrill, 93, Prominent Supporter of the Arts". Retrieved 2015-07-30.

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
President of Johnson & Johnson
Succeeded by
James Wood Johnson