Robert Wood Johnson II

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Robert Wood Johnson II
Robert Wood Johnson II.jpg
Chairman of the board of Johnson and Johnson
In office
1938 – ?
President of Johnson and Johnson
In office
Personal details
Born(1893-04-04)April 4, 1893
New Brunswick, New Jersey
DiedJanuary 30, 1968(1968-01-30) (aged 74)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Dixon Ross (m. 1916-1928)
Margaret Shea (m. 1930-1943) Evelyn Paynter (m.1944-death)
ChildrenRobert Wood Johnson III (1920-1970)
Sheila Johnson Brutsch (b. 1939)
ParentsRobert Wood Johnson I
Evangeline Brewster Armstrong
Net worthUSD $1 billion at the time of his death (approximately 1/864th of US GNP)[1]

Robert Wood "General" Johnson II (April 4, 1893 – January 30, 1968) was an American businessman.[2] He was one of the sons of Robert Wood Johnson I, the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson. He turned the family business into one of the world's largest healthcare corporations.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on April 4, 1893. His father was Robert Wood Johnson I, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, and his mother was Evangeline Brewster Armstrong Johnson. Johnson grew up with three siblings: Roberta Johnson, John Seward Johnson I, and Evangeline Johnson. When he was sixteen, their father died, leaving him an estate of $2,000,000. He attended the prestigious Rutgers Preparatory School before dropping out to start working full-time at J&J. This gave him an insight into the workings of the company for the rest of his life.


Johnson became vice president at J&J in 1918. Johnson also had an abiding interest in politics, and served a term as the Mayor of Highland Park, New Jersey. He was elected president of Johnson & Johnson from 1932–1938, and became chairman of the board of J&J in 1938. Johnson also held a reserve commission in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps during the 1930s. At the outbreak of World War II, Johnson's work in identifying products needed by the war effort resulted in the Permacell division of J&J inventing duct tape for sealing ammunition boxes. J&J plant managers simply took their existing cloth medical adhesive tape, added a waterproof plastic layer with a more aggressive adhesive, and produced it in olive drab (OD) green to match the ammunition cans. During the war, J&J would become a major supplier for combat first aid kits and other military supplies. In 1941, Johnson started the Ethicon subsidiary.

In 1942, Johnson's reserve Army commission was activated, and he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned to the Ordnance Department. That same year he was nominated by the Roosevelt administration to be vice-chairman of the board of the War Plants Corporation (WPC). When the Smaller War Plants Corporation (SWPC) was established as a division of the WPC in June 1942, Johnson was named chairman of the board of the SWPC.,[4] which regulated wartime production of military goods and defense items in smaller defense plants and businesses (500 or fewer employees) dispersed throughout the U.S. economy. The SWPC made direct loans, encouraged commercial lenders to make credit available to small businesses, and advocated for small businesses with federal agencies and larger corporate enterprises.

During his tenure as chairman of the SWPC, Johnson personally oversaw war contracts assigned to more than 6,000 companies. His tenure was a troubled one, and was marked by complaints from small businesses that they were not being awarded a significant portion of the most valuable wartime defense contracts.[5] During 1943, firms with under 100 employees were awarded 86,000 contracts, about 35% of the total number awarded (241,531), but worth only 3.5% of the total value ($35.3 million) of all contracts awarded by the SWPC.[5] Johnson responded by increasing the number of contracts to small businesses; however, instead of examining each company to determine what contribution each could make to the war effort, the SWPC began distributing contracts as a form of relief to prevent setbacks to small concerns with unused factory plant capacity.[5]

As Chairman of the SWPC and an Army general in the Ordnance Branch, Johnson had a tendency to overrule service branch requests for approval for production of specific military armament and ordnance items in favor of competing but less capable designs that could be made more rapidly or with lower material costs, freeing scarce but non-critical materials to small companies so that they could begin the transition to peacetime goods production.[6][7][8] This infuriated Johnson's military superiors in the War Department, who realized that the diversion of materials to peacetime production meant less factory capacity for new weapons and increased production of war materiel just as victory seemed to be within the grasp of Allied forces.[8] Unfazed, Johnson lost no opportunity in annoying his military superiors, frequently citing his business experience in support of his decisions.[8]

Matters came to a head in the fall of 1943, when the entire Michigan regional division of the SWPC resigned in protest over the actions of the parent board, stating that the SWPC was "nothing more than a glorified publicity agency". Thomas W. Moss, regional director, announced in a press release that the resignations of the entire Michigan regional division board were included in a resolution sent to Johnson on September 29, 1943. Two days later, on October 1, 1943, Johnson resigned his chairmanship of the SWPC, citing ill health as the reason for his sudden departure.[8]

Johnson returned to his chairmanship at J&J in 1943. He was responsible for writing the Johnson & Johnson Credo, a statement of business principles which is carved into the wall of the company's New Jersey headquarters.[9] The Credo states that the company's first responsibility is to “the doctors, nurses and patients, the mothers and all others who use our products”, and also sets out responsibilities to customers, suppliers, distributors, employees, communities and stockholders.[10]

In 1962, Johnson, as chairman of the board of J&J, fired his nephew, John Seward Johnson II.[11] In 1965, he fired his own son, Robert Wood Johnson III.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In 1916, Johnson married Elizabeth Dixon Ross.[13] They had one child: Robert Wood Johnson III. Their marriage lasted until 1928, when they began a two-year trial separation, followed by divorce.

In 1930, Johnson married Margaret (Maggi) Shea. They divorced in 1943 after Bob met Evelyn Vernon. Maggi and Bob loved each other, but Maggi, a wise and kind woman who understood Bob's restless personality, did not want to hold him back from any new happiness.[8]

In 1944, Johnson married Evelyn Vernon (née Paynter). A stunning redhead, she was a former ballet dancer and a dance instructor. They were both married to others when they met. This caused great difficulties, particularly for Evelyn, who came from a very upright middle-class background and was a strict Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, they both divorced their spouses and were married; Johnson's connections kept the matter out of the gossip columns. Pretty, polite, charming, with great social grace, Evelyn was a good and sobering influence upon Johnson. He was not always at ease in company. She made his social life much more interesting and agreeable, with a more literary group of friends. In return, Johnson spoiled her with clothes, jewels and a Rolls-Royce which sat outside Claridges in London. If she went out walking, the Rolls would follow her, until she tired and wanted to get in to rest her feet. (London traffic would not allow one to do this today.) In latter years, Evelyn and Bob's union was blessed by the Catholic Church. This was arranged by Father Martin D'Arcy, a Jesuit at Farm Street Church in Mayfair, London. On his deathbed in 1968, Johnson would admit nobody to see him except his beloved 'Evie', who stayed by his bed and to whom he was devoted.

In 1928, Johnson had taken up residence at Morven in Princeton, New Jersey, the historic home of the Stockton family. It was converted into the New Jersey Governor's mansion, after Johnson's lease on the property ended in 1945.[14] In 1946, Evie Johnson had an idea for a show-piece new mansion in Princeton, New Jersey and built 'Longleat' in sprawling grounds entered through grand gates with a one-mile drive up to the house. Evie was a bit of a social climber and had met the Marquess of Bath, who owned the Stately Home 'Longleat' in Wiltshire, from which she borrowed the name.

When Johnson died, in 1968, he left the bulk of his $400,000,000 estate to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.[2] His children already had been provided for, in a series of trusts. Johnson was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in North Brunswick, New Jersey.[15]


In 2008, Johnson was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143
  2. ^ a b "Robert Wood Johnson, 74, Dies. Chairman of Johnson & Johnson. Founder's Son Led Company Until 1963. No. 2 Man on War Production Board". New York Times. January 31, 1968. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  3. ^ [1] Archived May 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b "About RWJF - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation". Retrieved 2015-07-30.
  5. ^ a b c Heath, Jim F., American War Mobilization and the Use of Small Manufacturers, 1939-1943, Harvard, MA: Harvard College, The Business History Review, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 295-31
  6. ^ Trzaska, Frank, U.S. Fighting Knives of World War II, Chapter VII: M3 Trench Knife, OKCA (May 1996)
  7. ^ Cassidy, William L., The Complete Book Of Knife Fighting, ISBN 0-87364-029-2, ISBN 978-0-87364-029-9 (1997), p. 47
  8. ^ a b c d e Foster, Lawrence G., Robert Wood Johnson: The Gentleman Rebel, (1st ed.), Lillian Press, ISBN 0-9662882-0-3, ISBN 978-0-9662882-0-9 (1999), p. 256, 263-264
  9. ^ London, Simon (2004-08-30). "J&J stands proudly by its leader's words". Financial Times. ISSN 0307-1766. Retrieved 2017-07-31.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Our Credo Values | Johnson & Johnson". Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  11. ^ "A Matter of Opinion". Retrieved 2015-07-30.
  12. ^ Wilson, Duff (November 11, 2004). "Behind the Jets, a Private Man Pushes His Dream". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  13. ^ "Miss E.D. Ross a Bride. Weds Robert Wood Johnson at Her Home". New York Times. October 19, 1916.
  14. ^ Janson, Donald (1989-04-30). "A Tour of Princeton Landmarks". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  15. ^ Johnson, Robert Wood, Jr., The Political Graveyard. Accessed August 16, 2007, Wednesday.

External links[edit]

Robert Wood Johnson II at Find a Grave

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