Johnson, George F., 1857-1948.
George Francis Johnson (1857-1948), industrialist, was born in Milford, Massachusetts, October 14, 1857, the son of Frank A. Johnson, an itinerant shoemaker, and Sarah Jane Aldrich. His schooling ended at age thirteen, when he was given a job at the Seaver Brothers Shoe Factory in Ashland, Massachusetts. Like his father, Johnson moved from town to town during his youth in search of better employment in the boot industry.
In 1881 he became foreman for George and Horace Lester, manufacturers of shoes, of Binghamton, New York. When the Lester Brothers in 1891 were forced to turn over the company to Henry B. Endicott, their chief creditor, Endicott retained Johnson as overall manager of the factory. By 1909 Johnson had worked his way up to a partnership beside Henry B. Endicott and Eliot Spalding.
In 1919 the Lestershire Manufacturing Company was rechartered as the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corporation, having a capital of close to $30 million. Endicott died the following year, leaving Johnson as the obvious candidate for corporation president. He was further promoted to Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1930. By this time the corporation had expanded to a firm of twenty-eight plants and 18,000 employees, and production was averaging 45 million pairs of shoes a year.
Johnson's management of the firm was not only successful; it was innovative. He developed a philosophy of industrial organization and labor-management relations which is identified with "industrial democracy." His controversial methods were discussed in national publications throughout the twenties and thirties.
George F. Johnson married twice. Lucie Willis, his first wife, accompanied him to New York but she died before he began his successful career with Endicott. In 1896, Johnson took Mary McGlone as his second wife. They had a daughter, Lillian, now Mrs. Lloyd Sweet. Johnson's children by the first marriage were George W., Walter L., Zaida (later Mrs. M. W. Robertson), and Irma (later Mrs. R. Clay). Two boys, Ernest and Earl, died in childhood. Son George W. Johnson, nephew Charles F. Johnson, Jr., and grandson Frank A. Johnson figured prominently as officers of the Endicott-Johnson Corporation, especially after George F. Johnson retired from close supervision of the firm in the late thirties.
Mary McGlone Johnson died on October 1, 1947, and George F. Johnson died the following year on November 28. His legacy included a business which remained a major producer of staple footwear, a corporate philosophy whose merits are still debated, and a record of little or no industrial strife through the labor-management turmoil of the 1920's and 1930's.
George F. Johnson: A Personal Recollection by Lillian Johnson Sweet
Much has been written about my father, George F. Johnson, and his wisdom, generosity, business acumen and success in the field of labor-management relations. I knew him as a loving and beloved parent.
His father, Francis A. Johnson, was a stern and uncompromising man; his mother, Sarah Jane, a warm and compassionate woman. The characteristics of both parents influenced my father in large measure and were the basis for much of his development. I remember him through my early childhood and adolescent years as tender and fun-loving but also stern and awesome--all in about equal degrees.
My father's second marriage, to Mary Ann McGlone who became my mother five years later, was a happy partnership which lasted for fifty years. We were a close family and we spent the winters in Florida, where Father carried on his business with the help of a secretary and daily long distance telephone conversations. Business came before pleasure, but the enjoyment of games and social events was an important part of his life. We participated in or watched, with equal pleasure, ocean bathing, beach ball, golf, boxing matches, auto racing, concerts, dinner parties, picnics, walks and rides.
Father was a genuine sports enthusiast, with organized baseball claiming his most active interest. For many years he owned the Binghamton Triplets Ball Club, a member of the minor leagues. Judge Kenesaw M. Landis, baseball's best known commissioner, was a close friend of Father's and we covered the World Series circuit on special trains which carried Judge Landis and the competing teams to cities throughout the country.
Father confessed that money making had been his original objective as he achieved his first toe-hold in the business world, but he found that the acquisition of wealth alone was not a sufficient goal and a desire to serve humanity soon took precedence over his earlier aims. This desire was directed primarily toward improving the lot of the Endicott Johnson employees, who he always maintained were the backbone of his financial success. He began by improving working conditions, wages and living circumstances for those whom he termed his "working partners."
Homes were built and sold at cost. Playgrounds, recreation halls for bowling, roller skating and dancing were provided. Hospitals and a medical plan which received world-wide attention and acclaim were established. An eight-hour day, one of the first in a large industry, and other benefits were inaugurated.
There was opposition to these developments from a few of the corporation heads but despite misgivings on the part of many, Father persisted in carrying out his program, brooking no interference, and its ultimate success surpassed even his dreams.
As time went on, his concern for people broadened to include surrounding communities, where playgrounds, churches, swimming pools and parks now bear evidence of George F. Johnson's interest in human welfare.
In the cynical age with which we now contend, his business policies have too frequently been dismissed as paternalism. The intended slur in such a charge is obvious, but those of greater intellect and compassion will dismiss it on the ground of their own understanding.
In summation, I know no more true or graphic words to epitomize the life of my father than these: "The world was a better place because he walked through it."
From the guide to the George F. Johnson Papers, 1882-1956, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)
|Charles F. Johnson Jr. Papers, 1899-1959
|Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
|George F. Johnson Papers, 1882-1956
|Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
|Lord, Bert, 1869-1939. Bert Lord papers, 1902-1939.
|Cornell University Library
|Bert Lord papers, 1902-1939.
|Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
|Business and industry
|New York (State)