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George Johnson

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.

Accession Number

A2003.303

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/18/2003

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

E.

Organizations
Schools

James R. Doolittle, Jr. Elementary School

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

First Name

George

Birth City, State, Country

Richton

HM ID

JOH16

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

Sophisticate's Black Hair

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Favorite Quote

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

6/16/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Personal care executive George Johnson (1927 - ) is the founder of Johnson Products Company, which revolutionized the hair care market with products designed for African American women.

Employment

Fuller Products Company

Johnson Products

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Brown

DAStories

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