Johnston, Eric A. (Eric Allen), 1895-1963Alternative names
Motion picture executive.
From the description of Reminiscences of Eric A. Johnston : oral history, 1959. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122481310
Material for biographical note taken from "The Eric A. Johnston Story" by Ralph P. Edgerton, 1979. (Copy located in The Westerners, Spokane Corral Records [Ms 141].)
Eric Johnston has been described as ambitious, aggressive, and industrious. With a plethora of natural talents and seemingly limitless aspirations, he has served in many capacities as a dedicated leader to the business world, politics, and the media industry.
Eric A. Johnston was born December 21, 1895 in Washington D.C. to a pharmacist, Bertram Allen Johnson, and his wife Ida Ballinger Johnson. The following year, the family moved to Marysville, Montana having lost their business in the wake of the 1893 Panic. Some time after the turn of the century, the family’s acquaintance with a Mr. Murgittroyd persuaded them to leave the rough Montana mining town and move to Spokane, Washington. By 1906 the Johnsons had settled in the Inland Empire and opened Johnson’s Drug Store at 130 Post Street.
At a mere ten years of age, Eric was introduced to the working world. In his later years, he described himself as growing up in “genteel penury,” and as a result, had to contribute to the family income by, at various times, selling the Saturday Evening Post, carrying a paper route, and writing school updates for the Spokesman-Review . From this time foward, he worked all his life.
In 1911 Eric’s mother filed for divorce, and subsequently, his father seems to have contributed little, if any, to the development or financial maintenance of his son. During this decade, Eric, followed by his mother, adopted the new last name Johnston.
In 1913, after graduating from the newly built Lewis and Clark High School, Johnston enrolled at the University of Washington. Supporting himself by a myriad of jobs, Eric was on track to complete his degree, but just a year before he would have graduated, he applied for officership and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant for the Marines. His time in the service took him to such places as Mare Island, Quantico, China, and even Siberia.
Returning to the U.S., Johnston settled back in Spokane. Shortly thereafter he met Ina Hughes and married her in 1922. The same year saw the incorporation of Power Brown Company, a business dedicated to selling household electrical fixtures and under which both Eric and his mother had been employed. Under its incorporation, Eric and his mother served as vice president and secretary/treasurer respectively. Two years later, Power Brown bought Doerr-Mitchell Electric Company, the largest and oldest manufacturer of electrical equipment and changed the name of their corporation to Brown-Johnston Co. Under this name they continued to grow until, eventually, the wholesale and the retail businesses were split and a new company, Columbia Electric and Manufacturing, was created in 1940.
By this time, Johnston’s business savvy was becoming apparent. As a result, he was named trustee of the fledgling Washington Brick & Lime & Sewer Pipe Company, and due to his business acumen, the company saw a complete financial turn-around. This same year Johnston became president of Spokane’s Chamber of Commerce where he served for two years. This position paved the way as he rose to national attention becoming a candidate for the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. at the age of 37. For several years he represented the Chambers of the Northwestern states and in 1941 was elected by the Board of the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. to be its president. In this capacity he served four consecutive terms; he was the first to do so.
His move from national recognition to the international limelight came about when he served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s emissary to South America as chairman of the U.S. Commission of Inter-American Development and in 1944 as emissary to Russia, an invitation extended by Stalin himself.
With such a resume, Eric Johnston was naturally a desired asset in American corporations. In fact, he received a number of invitations to serve as director of various organizations. Additionally, his name was dropped as a possible candidate for Washington state governor, vice president, and several times as a presidential hopeful. But when Will H. Hays retired and offered Johnston his position as president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Johnston accepted noting that it provided the best means of voicing American principles to the world. Perhaps his greatest realization of this goal was opening foreign markets to American films. During this endeavor, Johnston was granted ambassadorial status as his marketing negotiations led him to deal with many high ranking government figures.
Called “America’s eloquent salesman,” Johnston attained national and international recognition. By the time of his death in 1963, Johnston had successfully worn the hat of noted orator, flourishing businessman, skilled diplomat, and copious writer. In 1943 he was recognized by Whitman College with the granting of an honorary degree of Doctorate of Civil Laws and over the years additional acknowledgment followed from Boston University, Rhode Island State College, University of Washington, Lafayette College, Tufts College, University of Southern California, and the State College of Washington (now Washington State University).
From the guide to the Eric A. Johnston Papers, 1920-1963, 1940-1963, (Eastern Washington State Historical Society/Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture Joel E. Ferris Research Library and Archives)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Business, Industry, and Labor|
|Internal security investigations|
|Chamber of Commerce of the U.S|
|Motion pictures--Production and direction|
|Motion picture industry|
|Media and Communication|