History of Johnson & Johnson

By - July 1, 2019
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Johnson & Johnson is the largest healthcare product company in the world today, but it started very small. It was founded in 1886 by three brothers – Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson, and Edward Mead Johnson. The company was first formed in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It is believed the Johnson brothers wanted to start the company to create a product line of surgical dressings that would be ready to use out of the box. This motivation struck them after they heard an address by Joseph Lister, a strong advocate of antiseptic practices in medicine. In 1885, Robert Wood Johnson was the first president of J&J. The company became a corporation in 1887 and throughout the 1800s, Robert worked hard to improve various sanitation practices in medicine.

1888 – Baby Powder First Sold

In 1888, J&J came up with first aid kits, which were first made for railroad workers, but some became standard practice for treating various injuries. In 1894, the baby business at J&J began with the launch of maternity kits. These kits were made to make childbirth safer. J&J’s famous Baby Powder also started to be sold that year and was highly successful. Robert Wood’s granddaughter was the first baby on which baby powder was used.

In 1896 and 1897, J&J helped women’s health immensely when it made the first sanitary protection products that were mass produced.

Ethicon Expands J&J Product Line in 1949

A J&J subsidiary named Ethicon is a maker of surgical sutures and wound closure medical devices. It was made into a separate company in 1949 so the J&J product line could be expanded and diversified. After World War 2, the market share of Ethicon in surgical sutures increased from 15% to 70% around the world.

McNeil Laboratories Acquired in 1959

In 1959, J&J bought McNeil Laboratories, as well as Cilag Chemie AG in Europe. These two purchased allowed J&J to gain a foothold in pharmaceutical medicines. One major McNeil product was the first prescription pain reliever that did not contain aspirin, Tylenol. Under the acquisition agreement by J&J, the product became available to consumers without a prescription. It earned the status as the top pain reliever that doctors and pediatricians recommend.

Janssen and J&J Merge in 1961

In 1961, Janssen Pharmaceutical NV joined J&J. Its founder, Paul Janssen has been recognized for decades as one of the best pharmaceutical researchers of the 20th century. Janssen today is one of the top research focused pharmaceutical companies in the world. It sells prescription drugs in women’s health, mental health, HIV/AIDs and more.

Janssen now operates under the J&J umbrella of companies and is split into three entities: Janssen Research and Development, Janssen Healthcare Innovation and Janssen Diagnostics. Some of the most famous Janssen products are Immodium, Risperdal and Reminyl, an Alzheimer’s drug.

J&J in the 1970s

From 1976 to 1989, James Burke was CEO and chairman of the company. J&J started to focus on mechanical wound closure, vision care and management of diabetes. It was during this period that Johnson & Johnson opened its first companies in Egypt and China.

In the 1990s, Ethicon focused on minimally invasive surgery, which uses tiny incisions to help patients to have a faster recovery than with regular surgery. Minimally invasive surgery also helps to reduce the chance of infection.

In 1994, J&J developed the first coronary stent, which was known as the Palmaz-Schatz stent. This product helped to revolutionize cardiology. Coronary stents keep blood vessels open so blood can get to the heart. The use of stents has decreased the number of open-heart bypass surgeries, which are highly invasive and take months to recover from. Later, another company under J&J, Cordis Corporation, marketed the first stent with drugs in it, which helped to keep the arteries from clogging again. Cordis was established in 1959 and still develops and manufactures medical equipment to treat patients who suffer from various forms of heart disease.

The 2000s

In 2003, J&J got into several lawsuits with Boston Scientific regarding patents on heart stent devices. Both companies claimed the other had infringed on a patent. The litigation was concluded in 2009, when BSI agreed to pay $715 million in September and $1.7 billion more the next February.

William Weldon became CEO and Chairman in 2002. The company moved into new therapeutic areas. One area was for the treatment of HIV/AIDs. This came through acquiring Tibotec-Virco BVBA to address the medical needs of HIV/AIDs patients.

In 2006, J&J bought Pfizer Consumer Healthcare for $16 billion. This acquisition added leading brands to the J&J product lineup, including Listerine oral care products and Nicorette.

J&J in 2012 and Beyond

Alex Gorsky was made CEO of J&J in 2012. Today, the company has more than 250 companies underneath it, with company operations in 57 countries and products being sold in more than 175 nations. J&J focuses on three key areas: consumer, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals.

As of 2012, the company’s global sales were $67 billion, while its investment in research and development was nearly $8 billion. It is by far the biggest healthcare products company in the world and only continues to grow.

It is hard to predict the future of J&J and its many subsidiary companies, but the pharmaceutical part of the company has some firm ideas of what it wants to do in the 21st century. It recently announced plans to submit product filings for 10 new products for FDA regulatory approval in the next 48 months. These products are intended to meet major unmet medical needs, including influenza, hepatitis C and schizophrenia.

Some of the new products it is developing are related to its acquisition in 2017 of Actelion, a biotechnology company in Switzerland for $30 billion. This is the biggest acquisition in the history of the company.


History of Johnson & Johnson. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pharmaphorum.com/articles/a-history-of-johnson-johnson/

Melinda J.
Melinda J.

Editor-in-Chief of TalcumPowderSafety. Since 1999, she's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more.

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