ANOTHER "GREAT BOTTLE DIGGING STORY" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
Johnson & Johnson,
The New York Times
and a rewarding Greenwich Village dig
By D. Scott Magee
Throughout my life when I heard "Johnson &
Johnson" baby powder and Band-Aids came to mind and it never
occurred to me that one day I would associate the name with old
pontiled bottles. At no time had I envisioned meeting one of the
heirs and conducting an historical dig at his home.
Before writing about the excavation I thought it would be appropriate to begin with a condensed history of Johnson & Johnson and its position as a world leader in the health care industry.
Robert Wood Johnson was born on February 15, 1845 in Carbondale, Pa. (Photo 1). In 1861 the teenaged Johnson left the Pennsylvania countryside and made his way to Poughkeepsie, NY a small though bustling city situated along the Hudson River. There he worked as an apprentice in his uncles apothecary, Wood & Tittamer located on Market Street (Photo 2). Johnson spent three years learning the complicated and tedious art of mixing medicinal plasters under the tutelage of James Wood. "Probably no other branch of the pharmaceutical art has been the occasion of so much toil, anxiety and failure and discouragement before any measure of success was met," the young Johnson would say. He went on to become a retail pharmacist at the drug firm of James Scott Aspinwall (formerly Rushton & Aspinwall) in New York City and then became a drug broker. In 1873, along with George Seabury, he formed the company of Seabury and Johnson which manufactured bandages using a new formula involving India rubber. Although the business prospered, the stormy partnership split up a decade later.
Photo 1 - Robert Wood Johnson, circa. 1890's.
Around 1885 Johnson began developing and marketing the first ready-made, ready-to-use surgical dressings. Johnsons brilliant production and marketing design was inspired by the identification of airborne germs - "invisible assassins" - by Sir Joseph Lister as a source of infection in operating rooms. This labeling was not readily accepted by many surgeons during the late nineteenth century. Despite the general incredulity among surgeons and physicians Johnson labored tirelessly and developed practical and marketable applications for his designs. His inventions helped save countless lives and paved the way for the vast fortunes the Johnson family would create.
Photo 2 - Wood & Tittamer Druggists, bottle circa 1890's
excavated by the author in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In 1886 Robert Wood Johnson joined with his brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson and, in a defunct wallpaper factory along the Raritan River in New Brunswick, NJ, began manufacturing improved medicinal plasters (Photo 3). The brothers incorporated as Johnson & Johnson in 1887. Soon after, a revolutionary surgical dressing - ready-made, individually wrapped and antiseptic - was developed and marketed. The company then designed absorbent, cotton and gauze surgical dressings that were mass produced and shipped to virtually every physician and druggist nationwide.
Following this Johnson & Johnson published a book titled "Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment" and this publication attained the status of standard text on antiseptic practices and held that position for many years (Photo 4). Right about this time, the companys products were also being shipped all over the world bearing the distinctive red cursive logo and red cross. Through their marketed products, strong advertising and propaganda, the Johnson & Johnson name became synonymous with good health.
|Photo 3 - Article in The Times
the new Johnson & Johnson factory.
|Photo 4 - Johnson &
Antiseptic Treatment booklet.
|Photo 5 - An early Johnson's Baby Powder.|
Johnson & Johnson applied their considerable resources to the task of designing and marketing the first, first-aid kit. The impetus for the production of these early kits was railway and factory injuries. The company brought the first-aid kit to market in 1890. The kit consisted of a large wooden case with an ample assortment of contents: antiseptic dressings, various surgical supplies, splints, etc. along with a pamphlet explicitly detailing what to do in the event of severed fingers, toes, and legs. The booklet also explained the appropriate way to treat people who had fainted. "If the accident is serious, send for a surgeon at once. While waiting, keep cool." This first aid kit was sold as "Johnsons First Aid Cabinet." The company went on to produce and sell, numerous, variations of the first aid kit.
By 1892, Johnson & Johnsons commercial success with sterile gauze dressings led to the companys slogan: "The Most Trusted Name in Surgical Dressings." Soon after this, baby powder was introduced onto the burgeoning medical supply market (Photo 5). This product was the direct result of a patient complaining of skin irritation caused by the use of a medicated plaster. From then on a can of talc was included with the orders of certain plasters. By 1894, as a result of customer requests, baby powder could be purchased separately from the medicated plasters. Next an improved sterilizing technique for catgut sutures was developed and perfected in 1897. This new product brought an appreciative response from physicians. "As to sutures, I have used common sewing thread many times in lieu of anything better, and oh dear how I as well as the patient counted the days when they had to be removed." Shortly after this, physicians would have their pick of nine types of catgut and twenty-one types of silk sutures from Johnson & Johnson.
In 1899, Johnson & Johnson along with leading surgeons developed and introduced the zinc-oxide type of adhesive plaster. Due to its quick sticking quality and overall greater strength, this type of plaster became widely used by surgeons.
Photo 6 - An early illustration of the Johnson & Johnson
factories and laboratories in New Brunswick, N.J.
Johnson & Johnson had grown to such a degree by the turn of the century that they shipped eighty percent of the surgical supplies used to treat victims after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. This continued during World War I as Johnson & Johnson shipped huge quantities of surgical and first aid supplies for the war effort.
In 1910 Robert Wood Johnson died. He was the companys first president and established Johnson & Johnson as a leader in the medical products industry. He was succeeded by his brother James Wood Johnson who ran the company until 1932.
In the decade following Robert Woods death, one of the most recognized contributions to first aid, the Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage was introduced by Johnson & Johnson (along with Johnsons baby cream) in 1921.
Johnson & Johnson branched out internationally in 1919 with its first affiliate in Canada. By 1924 Johnson & Johnson created Johnson & Johnson Ltd. in Great Britain. This was their first overseas affiliate.
In 1932 Robert Wood Johnson Jr. took over direction of the company. During World War II he was made brigadier general for his manufacturing accomplishments, which contributed to the war effort. Forever after he was referred to as "General Johnson" or "The General" (by his employees and acquaintances alike). The title stuck with him because of his militant, dictatorial, iron-fisted and tyrannical way of directing both Johnson & Johnson and his life.
General Johnson remained active in the company until his death in 1968 at the age of seventy-four. His estate, valued at over 1 billion dollars, was donated to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This is one of the largest private charitable organizations devoted to improving health and health care in the United States. The Foundation is not connected to any corporation.
In 1944 Johnson & Johnsons stock went public with an initial three way split: one third to Robert Wood Jr., one third to his brother, John Seward (referred to as Seward for most of his life) and one third placed on the open market.
Seward Johnson took over as vice president of Johnson & Johnson after World War II. By 1967 his stock alone was worth $91 million. In 1977 New Jersey Monthly wrote that Seward was the wealthiest man in the state, placing his fortune at $350 million. One of his sons also named John Seward Johnson but referred to as "Junior" or "Seward", was made heir and trustee in 1980. Seward Johnson Sr. died on May 22, 1983 with an estate valued at over $400 million.
Photo 7 - The Johnson's house.
The companys holdings, affiliates and alliances today are literally too numerous to mention here. One notable acquisition of recent years was of DePuy, Inc., a $3.7 billion cash transaction. In 2002 the company bought drug and delivery system maker ALZA for more than $12 billion. Not too shabby for a company known for its marketing of Band-Aids and baby powder!
Johnson & Johnsons corporate headquarters is still located in New Brunswick, NJ (Photo 6) where it has been for over 110 years, which brings us to 1999, the year of the Johnson dig.
At this point in my digging career, The New York Times approached me and asked if they could come on a dig. I reasoned that if the story was done well the publicity would be of benefit. Then they informed me that the dig would have to be in Manhattan. Hearing this my excitement level dropped considerably. At that time, and still today, potential digging sites in New York City were being torn up by backhoes and bulldozers, without even a perfunctory thought to history and artifacts. Typically I would roam the city on foot or by car looking for building demolitions or renovations only to find that the backyards were already under construction, or had been trucked away to remote land fills. Lining up a dig for The New York Times was going to be difficult, but I was determined.
Photo 8 - This was the view from the street the dig was on.
Upon reflection, I recalled that an heir of Johnson & Johnson (the grandson of Robert Wood Johnson) was renovating his home in the Village (Photo 7). Or had he already renovated it I wondered? I was not sure if he would allow digging on his property, although he had indicated he would a year earlier. Admittedly, I knew almost nothing then about the Johnson & Johnson company but I assumed that whoever carried the family name would not be sitting at home waiting for a digger to call. I began working to get in touch with Mr. Johnson.
Eventually I learned that the house renovation was completed but the yard had not been done over yet. Mr. Johnson said he had no idea if the well had been destroyed during the remodeling process but probing for it was fine as long as it was done immediately. My pulse jumped at this invigorating news!
Nina, The New York Times reporter, called again and reiterated that if I couldnt locate a site soon her boss was going to send the crew on another assignment and the story about privy digging in Manhattan, would never be told. I informed her that I had just gotten permission to probe a site in Grennwich Village and that the house was built in the mid-nineteenth century. She was pleased and said to notify her as soon as the dig was scheduled. The chosen day turned out to be the absolute last day possible to get into the yard before it was permanently altered.
Two of us made it to the Johnson home that morning to dig (Photo 8). After an hour or so we were able to locate the privy walls with our probes despite all the renovation materials scattered around the yard. The well was uncharacteristically situated just fifteen feet from the rear of the house.
Soon after I knew we had located the well, I opened the iron gate to the street and started out the long, narrow horsewalk to get supplies. I bumped into someone who was headed right for the spot I had just probed in. She turned out to be the backyard renovation foreman. Much to my shock and dismay her crew had every intention of getting their work underway that morning. Would Mr. Johnson be on our side or the renovation workers, I wondered? Could he even be located in time?
Photo 10 - The author a few feet from base level.
On top of this, moments earlier I had gotten off the phone with Nina and convinced her that "we just located the privy !"
Aware of how busy Johnson was reputed to be, and hearing that we were in the way, things seemed hopeless. The scheduled excavation appeared to be cancelled permanently! Thus The New York Times would only get to tell the story of what happens when a backyard privy is destroyed by renovation work. A nightmarish hour passed then someone finally got in touch with Johnson and explained what was happening. In the end, he proved to be a man of his word, and arranged to have the workers begin two days later. The excitement returned!
By this time the photographer and writer were interested in seeing some artifacts. They told me that without photographs and something worthwhile to report on, there might not be a story in Sundays paper. Hearing that, I got right to work!
After three or four hours of energetic digging signs of kitchen refuse were detected in the well: food bones, oyster shells, stove ash, etc. A short while later, an object for the journalists to gape at, an oxidized wine bottle from the 1880s. Then standing straight up, in the ash exactly how it had been deposited 125 years earlier, a free-blown, olive oil bottle, made of paper thin glass. I looked up from the five foot hole to see if anyone else sensed my anticipation. I had an impression that, despite earlier challenges, the dig would turn out to be worthwhile.
At this point the digging revealed plain, smooth based bottles from the 1870s-80s and every now and then something embossed or otherwise interesting: a stoneware mustard pot with black and white lettering, "Moutarde de Maille (France)"; a milk glass perfume bottle, C.W. Laird Perfumer Broadway N.Y.; an aqua medicine, R.R.R. Radway & Co. N.Y.; another mustard pot, S. Cearnss No. 13 Chapel St. Liverpool; a R. Low & Son Perfumers 330 Strand London, stoneware; an ointment jar, X. Bazin Phil. Clear glass; two identical pot lid bases, J.B. Thorn Chemist London, John Tarrant N.Y. Sole Agent for the U.S.; a dark blue and white, cold cream pot and lid, wedgewood style, etc. (Photo 9)
Some of the first bottles and artifacts discovered from the earlier "throw-away" period were two Civil War era sodas or ales, and several clay pipes. Those first embossed bottles were Engeman & Hubener N.Y., one dated 1861 and the other 1862. Soon after one, "Balm of a Thousand Flowers" appeared in the well-stocked ash fill. Continuing on, several more bottles were discovered: a pontiled R.R.R. Radway; a smooth based, fancy styled, peppersauce bottle, and then a beautiful, sapphire colored, soda/ale bottle "S. Hickerson 55 Clarkson St. N.Y." made just after the pontil rod became obsolete in bottle manufacturing. Later we discovered the same Hickerson bottle in aqua and pontiled, along with three W. P. & Co. porters made in the 1860s. Next a Distilled Dew bottle also from the 1860s, then three Rowlands Macassar Oil bottles made of flint glass, and a pontiled "Barrys Tricopherous for hair and skin."
During the late afternoon all of the bottles discovered were pontiled and this welcome change stayed with us for the remainder of the dig. The well was jam packed with stuff. Numerous bucketfuls of ash spilling over with broken bottles, tableware, redware plates, and more were continuously hoisted up from the ever deepening hole. This gave the reporter and the photographer lots of action to work with. Upon discovering an artifact, it would be held up for a photo and then explained. They documented many items and seemed enthused by our work.
Photo 11 - Flawless example of "Hyatt's Infallible Life Balm."
Finally the journalists left for the day and we could focus on the dig uninterrupted. Evening approached but it was still light out because of the time of year. Then the discovery of a damaged, colored medicine bottle was made. The bottle turned out to be "Hyatts Infallible Life Balsam." Despite its cracks I was excited by the find and it gave hope for what might be discovered later. Soon after another Barrys appeared, then I found the intact remains of a hypodermic syringe, and a puff style bottle that was black-amethyst. Then another, identical seeming bottle which turned out to be soil-blackened flint glass. After this two more "Hyatts" were unearthed with holes in them. Right after that a "Phalons magic hair dye # 2" was found and then a small pickle/honey bottle with overall latticework relief on its sunken panels, then a stoneware beer bottle inscribed "John Edwards N.Y. 1854", etc.
Having accomplished nearly all a digger could hope for in one long day, the eight foot hole was covered for the night. (Photo 10)
In the morning, with the well uncovered and the digging back in full swing, the Johnsons arrived. The journalists would return only sporadically on this second day and the Johnsons less intrusive presence was refreshing. He and his wife were fascinated by the accumulation of objects salvaged from their yard.
After the long break several buckets of material from the mid 19th Century were removed. Then the undisturbed refuse layer reemerged and a seemingly endless supply of bottles and artifacts from the period were discovered. Historically many of the items were common: one half dozen free blown olive oil bottles; numerous puffs and laundry bluing style containers; nearly forty small pontiled bottles that were used for ink and medicine; another hypodermic syringe, several black glass bottles for ale and whiskey; a small D.L. Ormsby stoneware beer bottle; a quart size Hackmann & Hulle stoneware beer bottle; one Dr. D.C. Kellinger N.Y.; etc. And then a sparkling mint soda bottle, "P. Kellet Newark, N.J. 1857" in rich dark aqua, along with the remains of yet another "Hyatts Infallible Life Balsam."
The remainder of the second day was consumed with the work of sifting the well contents for small objects and missing pieces from broken plates, bowls, etc. that were important for later reconstruction projects. This task along with filling in the hole lasted well into the night. Spirits remained high throughout this time due to the discovery of a flawless "Hyatts Infallible Life Balsam" in forest green (Photo 11)!
The profusion of intact containers on this dig was exhilarating and I gave up counting the bottles when I reached 120 (Photo 12). In the end, the dig was a fine example of what can be accomplished through perseverance, patience and effort.
Those who are interested in The New York Times rendition of this dig are directed to the City section of the paper from Sunday, May 30, 1999.
A well deserved thanks goes to M.C. Whitney for her invaluable research assistance.
|Photo 9 - An assortment of bottles and artifacts from varying periods.||Photo 12 - Most of the intact bottles from the dig.|
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gentleman rebel. State College PA: Lillian
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Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
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Johnson A company that cares 100 year
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Retrieved May 4, 2003 from
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rwjf.org. Retrieved May 12, 2003 from
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