George E. Johnson, Sr. (Finding Aid)

George E. Johnson, Sr.

1927 -

Interview Length: 269 minutes

Interview Date(s): December 18, 2003

Interview Location(s): Chicago, Illinois


Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson describes his family background, detailing his parents' separation and his subsequent move to Chicago with his mother. Johnson describes his neighborhood in Chicago, naming several prominent people in the community. Johnson explains how his entrepreneurial spirit showed itself at an early age, as he lists the many jobs and schemes he used to start making money when he was a child.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson shares memories of his child neighborhood in Chicago, and explains the start of his entreprenuerial career as a paper boy for the 'Chicago Herald-American' newspaper. After talking about his personality as a teenager, Johnson explains why he dropped out of school to become employed full-time at Fuller Products Company. Johnson describes S. B. Fuller and talks about how Fuller influenced his own development. Johnson then describes his duties while working for Fuller Products.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson details the success of Fuller Products Company, and describes the various chemists with whom he worked, including the innovative Dr. Herbert Martini. Johnson lists the many successful products he helped to sell all over Chicago. Johnson then details the beginnings of his own Johnson Products Company, which turned on his discovery of a man with an all-chemical hair straightener that needed refinement. Johnson also explains how he met his wife.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson details the early days of his business, explaining his split with original business partner Orville Nelson, and sharing how he was able to secure his first loan. Johnson describes the early production processes, and explains how he used on-site training to show barbers how the products should be used. Johnson discusses his first successful product, Ultra Wave Hair Culture, and talks about his efforts to expand his market in cities around the country.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson details the expansion of his company, which began with the decision to develop hair care products for women and sell them in beauty salons. Johnson explains the strategies behind the expansion, and how he changed the company's personnel to keep it successful, naming some of the key employees during the period of expansion. Johnson also explains how the company survived a fire that gutted its headquarters in 1964.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson details the financial side of his company, and lists many of the investors with whom he has worked over the years, including a continued discussion about S. B. Fuller, and the founding of Independence Bank. Johnson also discusses the advertisement of his products, including his involvement in 'Essence' magazine, and the development of the product Afro Sheen as a response to the Black is Beautiful movement.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson details the expansion of Johnson Products into public consciousness. He describes the company's TV programs, 'And Beautiful' and explains the impact of 'Soul Train' on the company's success. Johnson also discusses his interactions with B. B. King, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson. Johnson then explains the decision to go public with Johnson Products Company in 1969.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson continues to discuss his company's initial public offering in 1969, and details the increased competition that resulted. In particular, Johnson discusses his feud with Revlon and the Federal Trade Commission, which occurred after warning labels on his Ultra Sheen product resulted in lost market share. Johnson explains how the company survived that attack, and begins to discuss introducing his products into Nigeria.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson discusses the challenges of doing business in Nigeria and explains why he pulled his company out of that nation. Johnson details the factors leading to declining profits for his company, and describes the series of events leading to the subsequent sale of the company, which Johnson would have opposed had he remained in charge. Johnson acknowledges that the black hair care industry is almost non-existent, but points to a number of successful black entrepreneurs in other industries that have taken up where he left off.

Johnson Products Company founder George Johnson talks about his friend Whitley Phipps's efforts to improve the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated. Johnson then remembers his mother, highlighting her best qualities. Johnson then discusses his charity efforts with his educational foundation, and considers his legacy and the future of the black community.

77 Stories (See Ordered Story Set)