The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has supported an ongoing national dialogue to engage the public and health professionals alike, the sick and the well, the young and the old. We have focused on the quality of care, its measurable outcomes, the equity of access to it, and how to avoid getting sick in the first place. As we move forward, we look back to our beginnings and to the men and women who shared and helped shape the vision of our founder, Robert Wood Johnson II.
Robert Wood Johnson II was born in 1893 and named after his father, the president of the Johnson & Johnson Company. After his father's death, young Robert went to work in the company's power plant, then moved through each department, learning its functions and operations. He succeeded his uncle James as president of Johnson & Johnson in 1932.
It was in the depths of the Great Depression that Robert Wood Johnson II rose to the challenge of assisting employees and other members of his community as they coped with the worst economic disaster ever to befall this country.
His passion was fueled in part by a tough childhood bout with rheumatic fever, which left him with an enlarged heart and repeated adult hospitalizations. Johnson learned firsthand the worst of healthcare.
In December 1936, with 12,000 shares of his own Johnson & Johnson stock—worth about $ 5.4 million in today’s dollars, Johnson endowed the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation. His aim: To help local people down on their luck.
Johnson—known as “the General” ever since he secured the commission of brigadier general in World War II—retained a laser-like focus on health and healthcare. At war’s end, he revived and replenished his philanthropy, renaming it the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 1952.
By the early 1960's, Johnson had his own agenda for system reform and quality improvement: Patient care comes first; tear down the “rigid caste system” that impedes hospital fairness and efficiency; give nurses a greater say in patient care; professionalize nursing; give scholarships to talented low-income and minority students for careers.
Throughout his life, Robert Wood Johnson II maintained a philosophy of "enlightened self-interest," calling upon business and industry to "accept and fulfill its full share of social responsibility." This principle was expressed in the disposition of his own fortune. Upon his death on January 30, 1968, he left virtually all of it to the Foundation, creating one of the world's largest private philanthropies.
“There is no area of social responsibility more important than the care of the sick and the injured, and I think it best to confine my Foundation to the area of healing.”
— Robert Wood Johnson II, Our Founder
Highlights from Our History
Since our beginnings as a small community foundation, we've had the opportunity to help shape key efforts to address the nation's needs—from the development of the 9-1-1 emergency call system to the improvement of care at the end of life. Today, that means working to build a comprehensive Culture of Health that gives individuals—no matter who they are, how much money they have, or where they live—the opportunity to pursue as healthy a life as possible.