The company began when Samuel Curtis Johnson, Sr. purchased the parquet flooring business of Racine Hardware Company in 1886 and renamed it Johnson’s Prepared Paste Wax Company. Management has since passed down through five generations of the Johnson family; the longevity of this dynasty is itself unusual. In 1939, the first part of the Johnson Wax Building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened. Its addition, the Research Tower, opened in 1950.
From April 1935 until May 1950, the company was the sponsor for the Fibber McGee & Molly radio show, officially known as The Johnson Wax Program; each episode featured an appearance by pitchman and Johnson representative Harlow Wilcox. To maximize show time, Wilcox was written into the script as a Johnson’s-obsessed friend of the McGees (Fibber nicknamed him “Waxy”) who would show up mid-episode and managed to get an ad into his lines, often using extremely far-fetched segues for comedic effect. Common products advertised on the show were Johnson’s Wax, Johnson’s Glo-Coat, and Johnson’s Car-Nu.
Also during the 1950s, the company served as sponsor of the game show, The Name’s the Same; alternating with Swanson, also co-sponsoring Robert Montgomery Presents on NBC, and later on CBS, The Red Skelton Show .
In 1984, Cornell University renamed its business school the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management in recognition of the Johnson family’s long generosity to that institution.
In 1992, the company bought Drackett, manufacturer of Windex, Drāno and other specialty cleaning products. In 1997, S.C. Johnson expanded its roster of consumer brands when it purchased Dow Chemical’s DowBrands division, which included Ziploc, Saran, Fantastik, Glass Plus, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Spray ‘n Wash. Dow Chemical purchased Texize in 1986, in which it received the Fantastik and Glass Plus brand. The company received approval for the deal in 1998 from the Federal Trade Commission by agreeing to sell the Glass Plus and Spray ‘n Wash brands to competitor Reckitt Benckiser.
In 1999, the commercial cleaning products and systems division separated from Johnson Wax and became a stand-alone company called Johnson Wax Professional. In 2002, it acquired DiverseyLever to become JohnsonDiversey Inc., and in 2009, it became Diversey, Inc.
The current Chairman and CEO, Dr. Herbert Fisk Johnson III, is the fifth generation of the Johnson family to lead the company. He succeeds his father, Samuel Curtis Johnson, Jr., who died in May 2004.
The company was one of three 2006 recipients of the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership.
From 2005 to 2011, S. C. Johnson & Son was ranked by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 10 “Companies to Work For” in their annual ranking. In 2007, the company was ranked #7; In 2011, they were ranked #10.
Despite its large size, the company remains privately owned by the Johnson family, and is currently in its fifth generation of family ownership.