Our History

Since our founding 50 years ago, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has supported the development and promotion of research, policies, and practices focused on improving health and healthcare for everyone in the United States.

In partnership with others, we have worked to ensure every individual has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. Most recently, this has called upon us to identify, confront, and address barriers to health caused by the intersection of structural racism, other forms of discrimination, and the social conditions that impact health.

We consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to carry forth the legacy of our founder Robert Wood Johnson II, who established RWJF to support the health of those with the greatest needs.  

Our Founder

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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.

Our Founder, Robert Wood "General" Johnson II

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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.

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.

In his writings and in testimony to Congress, the General maintained that the United States could not thrive unless everyone had safe place to work, fair pay, and good health care. His innate understanding of health equity planted the seeds for the Foundation’s vision of building a national Culture of Health rooted in compassion, equity, and respect.

Highlights from Our History

Since our beginnings as a small community foundation, we've had the opportunity to help shape key efforts to address health in America—from the development of the 9-1-1 emergency call system, to the improvement of end-of-life care, the national effort to decrease tobacco use, decrease childhood obesity, and increase access to healthcare.

Today, RWJF is committed to supporting efforts to achieve a national Culture of Health rooted in health equity. This means working toward a future in which all individuals and communities have the means and the power to thrive.

RWJF original headquarters.

RWJF's original headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Our History and Evolution

Our History and Evolution

A dental student sitting in a lab.

Our History and Evolution

This video documents many of the key programs and projects through which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to effect and influence meaningful social change.
This video documents many of the key programs and projects through which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to effect and influence meaningful social change.

Our History and Evolution

This video documents many of the key programs and projects through which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to effect and influence meaningful social change.

Featured Initiatives

9-1-1 Emergency Response

National 9-1-1 Emergency Response

In the early 70's, trauma was the leading cause of death between infancy and adults in their late 30's. In response, RWJF created a real-world national 9-1-1 emergency medical response system.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity

In 2007, the Foundation made a landmark $500 million commitment to help reverse the nation's childhood obesity epidemic. RWJF pledged a second $500 million in 2015 to continue the work.

No Smoking sign

Tobacco Control

Over 20 years ago, RWJF introduced new approaches for research, prevention and treatment of tobacco use that have achieved extraordinary results, improving the public's health and saving millions of lives.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHRR)

Since 2010, CHRR has provided key data on a range of health factors for nearly every county in America, showing how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play, as well as structural barriers including racism.

End-Of-Life Care

End-Of-Life Care

RWJF was instrumental in helping establish and legitimize the field of end-of-life care, and promoting the adoption of palliative care programs into hundreds of hospitals across the United States. 

Health Equity

Health Equity

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, a landmark RWJF-funded report defining and promoting health equity.

Stories: Humble Beginnings