We Started Small

This is one in a series of stories about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s landmark achievements, which continue to inspire us as we address future challenges.

One of Robert Wood Johnson’s colleagues once remarked that “if you didn’t watch him, he’d give away the factory.”

Johnson’s generosity within the Northern New Jersey community was well known. Some things seem too good to be true, but Johnson’s commitment to helping the needy was deeply heartfelt.

In his earliest days as a philanthropist—although he refused to describe himself as such—Johnson worked hard to assist Johnson & Johnson employees, and other members of the local community to ride out the storm of the Great Depression. Early in the Depression, Johnson gave employees a 5 percent hardship bonus. He often reached into his own pocket to help workers who had fallen on hard times.

In late 1936, he created the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation with 12,000 shares of company stock—worth about $5.4 million today. His aim was simple: to help people who were down on their luck. Many applied; few were denied.

This is our proud legacy.