Our History

Overview

For nearly five decades, we have supported the development and promotion of health and healthcare innovations to improve the lives of millions.

Working toward a nation rooted in equity, compassion, and respect, we continue to honor our founder's vision of building a healthier, more equitable America.

  • 2019

  • 2016

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      Shifting the Culture

      RWJF begins to put the Culture of Health into action around four central themes: children, communities, health and health care, and leadership.

  • 2015

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      Taking Action

      RWJF unveils the Action Framework  with 41 evidenced-based measures pointing to “greater well-being and health equity for all.” Motivated by hopeful signs of progress, as well as persistent and troubling racial and ethnic inequities in that progress, RWJF pledges a second $500 million to continue the work.

       

  • 2013

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      Eyes on the Prize

      The Roadmaps to Health Prize begins honoring communities at the forefront of improving health. It will be renamed the Culture of Health Prize the following year.

  • 2009

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      Health Equity for All

      While RWJF’s commitment to health equity  has roots as far back as the General, the convening of the high-profile Commission to Build A Healthier America is a key public milestone on our journey.

  • 2003

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      Addressing Obesity

      RWJF revises its access and chronic health conditions goal areas to bring them more fully into alignment with the goal of improving the quality of health care for all Americans. RWJF designates childhood obesity as one of its top priorities.

  • 1997

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      Covering Kids

      RWJF pioneers Covering Kids: A National Health Access Initiative for Low-Income, Uninsured Children (1997–2002) 1) identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and other public health insurance programs; 2) simplify the enrollment process; and 3) promote coordination among programs. RWJF’s efforts contribute to impressive results: The number of uninsured children drops from 11 million in 1997 to 8 million in 2002. The successor program, Covering Kids & Families (2001–2009), saw enrollment in the state Children’s Health Insurance Program double to 4.4 million between 2000 and 2007.

  • 1996

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      ActionFramework

      Communities and Collaboration

      Recognition that well-being increasingly is rooted in non-medical areas inspires RWJF to partner with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on a 10-year program to make the nation’s public health system “more effective, more community-based and more collaborative." Operating in 22 states, the program, Turning Point: Collaborating for a New Century in Public Health (1996–2006) , engages stakeholders not previously involved in public health, among them businesses, educators, and faith communities. The program spurs creation of statewide public health institutes and a national movement toward accreditation of health departments.

  • 1989

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      Beyond the $1 Billion Mark

      RWJF awards the billionth dollar of grant funds since its establishment as a national foundation in 1972.

  • 1988

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      Funding for Health Policy Research

      RWJF establishes the nation’s largest source of private funding for research and policy analysis of health care economics and organizational infrastructure. Changes in Health Care Financing and Organization (1988–2014) provides a bridge between researchers and policy-makers. Funded studies focus on topics such as Medicare, links between health costs and the general economy, the economics of care coordination, private insurance, and the nation’s long-term care needs.

  • 1987

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      First Grant: Student Aid

      Deepening its home-state commitment, the New Jersey Health Initiatives program (1987–2014) invests in innovative projects in ambulatory and community health in New Jersey. A diverse grants portfolio supports projects focused principally on two themes: preventing dating abuse among adolescents and promoting health literacy among immigrants.

  • 1972

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      Clinical Scholars Program Begins

      Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program - (1972–2021) provides funding to physicians with postdoctoral training in innovative research, administrative leadership, policy-making, and community-based participatory research. Past Scholars have gone on to become directors of government agencies, academic departments, hospitals, and foundations.

  • 1972

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      First Grant: Student Aid

      RWJF makes its first grant: $44 million to the Association of American Medical Colleges for student aid.

  • 1968

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      A Generous Legacy

      On January 30, Johnson & Johnson’s founder and principal shareholder, Robert Wood Johnson died, leaving his common stock in the company to the Foundation.

  • 1952

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      Focus Broadens

      The Johnson New Brunswick Foundation Board of Trustees changes its name to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and amends its certificate of incorporation to allow grantmaking beyond Middlesex County. New Jersey remained the focus of the Foundation’s work until 1972.

  • 1936

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      people in social distancing purchased from iStock

      The Beginning

      The Johnson New Brunswick Foundation is incorporated, principally to address needs in New Jersey’s Middlesex County. Its first act was to transfer 130 acres of land to the county for a public park on the banks of the Raritan River. Johnson Park, as it is known today, is a beautiful gathering spot with picnic groves, sports fields, an animal haven, and a restored 18th century village.

  

Our Founder, Robert Wood "General" Johnson II

Robert Wood “General” Johnson II

Our Founder

It was during the Great Depression that Robert Wood Johnson II rose to the challenge of assisting employees of Johnson & Johnson and other members of his community as they coped with the worst economic disaster to ever impact this country.

He was driven in part by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, which left him with an enlarged heart and repeated adult hospitalizations. Johnson experienced firsthand the shortcomings of healthcare in America.

In December 1936, with 12,000 shares of his own Johnson & Johnson stock—worth about $5.4 million today—Johnson endowed the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation. His aim was modest: to help local people down on their luck.

Johnson—known as “the General” since securing the commission of brigadier general in World War II—retained a sharp focus on upgrading health and health care. At war’s end, he revived and replenished his philanthropy, renaming it the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) after his father, 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; and give scholarships to underserved students for careers.

Throughout his life, Robert Wood Johnson II maintained a philosophy of what he called "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.

Our Home: New Jersey

To honor the legacy started by our founder, we at RWJF remain committed to building a Culture of Health in New Jersey and beyond. Learn how we’ve collaborated with communities around the Garden State to help improve the health and health equity for all.