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George Johnson

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Information about George Johnson

Profile image of George Johnson

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Personal Care Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Chicken
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Jamaica
Favorite Quote:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Birthplace

Born:
6/16/1927
Birth Location:
Richton, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Personal Care Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Chicken
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Jamaica
Favorite Quote:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Birthplace

Born:
6/16/1927
Birth Location:
Richton
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Biography

George E. Johnson, Sr. was born in Mississippi on June 16, 1927, in a three-room sharecropper’s shack. Following his parent’s separation, Johnson moved to Chicago with his mother, Priscilla, in 1929. Johnson began working shining shoes at the age of eight while attending Doolittle Elementary School. He then attended Wendell Phillips High School for three years before quitting to work full-time.

Johnson worked during the day as a busboy, and in the evenings he set pins in a bowling alley. In 1944, he went to work for S.B. Fuller, a black-owned cosmetics firm, as a production chemist. In 1954, at the encouragement of Herbert Martin, a German-born chemist at S.B. Fuller, Johnson left the company and founded Johnson Products, focusing on the African American male hair care market. The seed money for the company came from a loan of $500 that had been earmarked as a vacation loan. Within three years, Johnson Products found success in the women’s hair care market with the development of Ultra Sheen, a revolutionary hair straightener that could easily be used in the home. Over the next few decades, Johnson Products continued to grow, focusing its efforts on not only creating quality products, and also on training cosmetologists on proper usage. In 1964, Johnson founded Independence Bank, and during the 1960s he became the exclusive sponsor behind the nationally syndicated dance show Soul Train. In 1971, Johnson Products became the first African American-owned company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange. That same year, Johnson became the first African American to serve on the board of directors of Commonwealth Edison.

In the mid-1980s, more and more competitors began entering the African American hair care industry and the Federal Trade Commission forced Johnson Products to put warning labels on lye-based products, without requiring Revlon to do the same. In 1989, Johnson and his wife of thirty-nine years, Joan, divorced. As a part of the divorce settlement, Johnson transferred 49.5 percent of the company over to her. Their son, Eric, took over the reins, but left the company in 1992, and the company was sold to IVAX for $61 million the following year. In 1995, Johnson and Joan remarried, and in 1998, Carson Products bought the company.

During the course of his career, Johnson received numerous honors. Ebony magazine awarded him with its American Black Achievement Award in 1978, and in 1979 Johnson received the public service award of the Harvard Club for the work of the George E. Johnson Foundation and the George E. Johnson Educational Fund. He has been active with a number of civic organizations, as well, including the Chicago Urban League, the Lyric Opera, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Operation PUSH.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George Johnson interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Johnson's favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Johnson talks about his father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Johnson talks about his mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Johnson remembers working in the fields
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Johnson describes his mother's personality
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Johnson reflects on growing up in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Johnson talks about his brothers
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - George Johnson describes himself as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - George Johnson remembers sights and sounds from his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - George Johnson identifies prominent members of his childhood community
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - George Johnson recounts several childhood memories
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Johnson talks about the rough life of 31st Street
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Johnson shares his memories of the World's Fair
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Johnson discusses his childhood paper route
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Johnson reflects on his teenage years
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Johnson talks about working for the Fuller Products Company
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - George Johnson talks about the influence of S. B. Fuller
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - George Johnson recounts his first meeting with S. B. Fuller of the Fuller Products Company
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - George Johnson shared details about the Fuller Products Company
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - George Johnson talks about the work he did for the Fuller Products Company
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Johnson talks about working under various chemists at Fuller Products Company
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Johnson discusses S. B. Fuller's purchase of Boyer International Laboratories
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Johnson provides business details about Boyer International Laboratories
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Johnson talks about the products and clientele of Fuller and Boyer products
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Johnson talks about the innovations of chemist Dr. Herbert Martini
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Johnson details the courtship of his wife
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Johnson discusses the start of Johnson Products
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Johnson discusses his business relationship with Orville Nelson
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Johnson talks about getting a loan to start Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Johnson details his initial manufacturing arrangements
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Johnson talks about the sales of his first successful product, Ultra Wave Hair Culture
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Johnson explains his strategy for developing a product market
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - George Johnson talks about one of his first customers, Don Roby
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - George Johnson explains his decision to develop a women's product line
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Johnson discusses the development Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Johnson talks about developing the personnel of Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Johnson discusses his business philosophy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Johnson talks about the expansion of Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Johnson identifies key employees of Johnson Prodcuts Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Johnson discusses his relationship with Bill Berry of the Chicago Urban League
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Johnson describes how Johnson Products Company survived a destructive fire
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Johnson talks about entrepreneur Joe Dudley
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - George Johnson explains S. B. Fuller's problems with the Securities Exchange Commission [SEC]
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - George Johnson talks about helping to start a black-owned bank
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - George Johnson comments on the generosity of S. B. Fuller after the fire at Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - George Johnson discusses developing a distributor base
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - George Johnson comments on surpassing the competition
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - George Johnson discusses advertising his products
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - George Johnson talks about advertising in 'Essence'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - George Johnson discusses the product Afro Sheen
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - George Johnson talks about the challenges of traveling during segregation
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - George Johnson reflects on meeting B. B. King and Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - George Johnson talks his television marketing strategy
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - George Johnson discusses his success with 'Soul Train'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - George Johnson talks about his first meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - George Johnson talks about his early support for Jesse Jackson
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - George Johnson discusses taking Johnson Products Company public, part 1
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - George Johnson discusses taking Johnson Products Company public, part 2
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - George Johnson reflects on the success of Johnson Products Company's initial public offering
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - George Johnson discusses Johnson Products Company's competition with Revlon after going public
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - George Johnson details how his company survived attacks from Revlon
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - George Johnson talks about hosting a dinner for S. B. Fuller
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - George Johnson talks about doing business in Nigeria
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - George Johnson comments on the challenges of doing business in Nigeria
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - George Johnson talks about pulling his business out of Nigeria
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - George Johnson reflects on the Jheri curl trend
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - George Johnson discusses revenue slow-down in the 1980s
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - George Johnson discusses the promotion of his son to president of Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - George Johnson talks about the sale of Johnson Products Company
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - George Johnson highlights several successful black companies
  • Tape: 9 Story: 8 - George Johnson shares how he spends his time
  • Tape: 9 Story: 9 - George Johnson talks about Whitley Phipps, part 1
  • Tape: 10 Story: 1 - George Johnson talks about Whitley Phipps, part 2
  • Tape: 10 Story: 2 - George Johnson reflects on his mother
  • Tape: 10 Story: 3 - George Johnson reflects on his philosophy and contributions
  • Tape: 10 Story: 4 - George Johnson discusses his legacy and concerns for the black community