Johnson & Johnson

Spanning nearly 140 years from the Gilded Age to the digital revolution of Industry 4.0, this timeline traces the history of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson—from sterile dressings in wartime to icons like Band-Aids and Tylenol that defined consumer health in peacetime.

Guided by their 1943 credo, J&J pursued innovation and purposeful growth through epochs of social upheaval and prosperity alike.

EARLY HISTORY (1873-1943)

the first J&J store
© History Oasis

1873 — Humble Beginnings

In 1873, Robert Wood Johnson begins his career at age 16 as a pharmacy apprentice in Poughkeepsie, NY.

He later co-founds a company with George Seabury selling medicated plasters and bandages called Seabury & Johnson.

1886 — Founding of J&J

In 1886, Robert and his brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson found Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, NJ.

Their first products are ready-to-use sterile surgical dressings, which help popularize the concept of antiseptic surgery advocated by Joseph Lister.

1894 — Baby Powder Boom

By 1894, J&J is a major supplier of sterile surgical products like sutures, cotton, and gauze.

That year they also launch their enduring brand—Johnson's Baby Powder. Other early baby products include maternity kits, sanitary pads, and diapers.

1901 — Health Education Advocate

In 1901, J&J publishes manuals on modern antiseptic wound treatment and first aid that help establish the company as a leader in consumer health education.

1910 — Founder Dead

When founder Robert Wood Johnson dies in 1910, his brother James Wood Johnson takes over as president and continues expanding the company over the next two decades.

A third generation of Johnson family leadership begins in 1932 when Robert Wood Johnson II, son of the founder, becomes president.

1943 — Our Responsibilities

In 1943, Robert Wood Johnson II writes J&J's historic company credo that puts forward ethical principles to guide business decisions—what he called "Our Responsibilities".

This document remains an essential part of the company's identity and strategy.

The next year, J&J holds its IPO and becomes a publicly traded company on the NY Stock Exchange.


baby lotion by Johnson & Johnson
© History Oasis

1944 — IPO

After going public in 1944, J&J continues growing through new product development and acquisitions.

Some key consumer brands launched during this period include Johnson's Baby Lotion (1944) and adult Tylenol (1960, after acquiring McNeil Labs in 1959).

1961 — Janssen Pharmaceutica

J&J expands its pharmaceutical business by acquiring companies like Janssen Pharmaceutica in 1961, which goes on to develop major drugs for mental illness and anesthesia.

1970s — International Expansion

Under CEO James Burke in the 1970s and 80s, J&J accelerates its international growth and pioneering use of acquisitions.

Burke builds decentralized global units that set their own strategies within J&J's overall structure.

1985 — China

Major milestones during Burke's tenure include establishing operations in China in 1985.

Just a few years earlier in 1982, his quick and visionary response after Tylenol capsules were tampered with earns widespread praise as a model of corporate crisis management.

1989 — Global Dominance

Towards the end of this era in 1989, Ralph Larsen takes over as CEO after joining J&J in 1954 as a sales rep.

Under his leadership in the 1990s, J&J continues expanding globally and further diversifies its product portfolio through acquisitions of brands like Neutrogena and Motrin.

Overall, the postwar period cements J&J's position as a diversified global healthcare products leader powered by both organic growth and strategic mergers & acquisitions.


a J&J drug
© History Oasis

1990s — Major Acquisitions

In the 1990s under CEO Ralph Larsen, J&J continues its brisk pace of global expansion and diversification into consumer healthcare.

Major acquisitions add mega-brands like Neutrogena, Motrin, and Aveeno to its portfolio.

2002 — Pfizer’s Health Care Division

When William C. Weldon takes over as CEO in 2002, he refocuses the company on decentralized business segments with more autonomy.

A key move is acquiring Pfizer's consumer health care division in 2006, bringing brands like Listerine and Neosporin under J&J.

2012 — Pharma Expansion

Alex Gorsky becomes CEO in 2012 after a fast rise through J&J's ranks.

He oversees growth of the pharmaceutical division with new drugs and strategic deals like the 2017 purchase of Abbott Medical Optics for $4.3 billion.

2022 — Kenvue

Current CEO Joaquin Duato, appointed in 2022, is making moves to sharpen J&J's focus on pharmaceuticals and medtech.

In 2023, J&J announces plans to spin off its consumer health brands like Tylenol and Bandaid into a separate publicly traded company called Kenvue.

Duato aims to improve innovation and agility after this major restructuring.

Overall, J&J remains a diversified healthcare giant while evolving its business mix over the decades to capitalize on new opportunities—from vision care technologies to biopharmaceuticals.

Acquisitions continue to supplement in-house R&D and organic growth.