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Samuel Curtis Johnson’s Persistence Paid Off: SC Johnson History Has an Unlikely Beginning

Our company history starts with a great story: Our founder Samuel Curtis Johnson invented himself and then reinvented himself. Again. And again. His journey wasn’t an obvious path. But his persistence and his refusal to settle ultimately led to the creation of SC Johnson – a company that’s larger today than surely even his wildest hopes.
His story is our backbone. It continues to inspire us to stay true to our instincts, to grow and to create the best products for families everywhere. 
Johnson's Paste Wax
Samuel purchased the flooring business that became SC Johnson in 1886. 

American Business History is Full of Stories Like This

Samuel’s first venture — working in the railroads — seemed promising. It was the 1800s and the railroad industry was booming. Samuel took a job helping develop a new railway, even investing half of his salary in the business. His confidence was great, but the company couldn’t keep up. When the business went bankrupt, Samuel lost his job and his savings. 

It was a fairly creative notion on the part of my great-grandfather that put Johnson Wax in business…he saw a business opportunity with an idea that was rather simple, but that others were missing. 
Sam Johnson, fourth-generation leader of SC Johnson

SC Johnson’s Company Founder Faced Multiple Challenges

He turned optimistically toward a new opportunity. Samuel’s next position was as a partner at a book and stationery store. Over a few years, he earned enough capital to buy out his partner. But Samuel’s enthusiasm got ahead of him yet again. The company failed, and he once more found himself looking for a fresh start.

For Samuel Curtis Johnson, the Third Time Was the Charm

Samuel found his new beginning in Racine, Wisconsin, where he relocated his family in 1882. Nearing 50 years old, he wasn’t your typical employee. But he gamely joined the Racine Hardware Manufacturing Company as a parquet flooring salesman. After four years, he bought the flooring business. The rest is SC Johnson history.

Samuel C. Johnson, first generation leader of American company, SC Johnson
Samuel C. Johnson’s third venture succeeded, and it bears his name to this day.

With only four employees to start, Samuel worked tirelessly, doing his own sales, accounting and management. And it worked. The company showed a net profit in its first year. But even more important, by 1898, he had developed a line of floor care products that generated more sales than the entire original flooring business.

Samuel had seen an opportunity that others were missing – wax products to keep new flooring looking great. Though now in his 50s, for the first time, his persistence had paid off. Samuel’s belief in himself and his products resulted in a successful and growing business.

Every business that lasts eventually encounters obstacles. H.F. Johnson, Jr. had to steer our company through the Great Depression. Sam Johnson expanded into new products and geographies, and certainly stumbled periodically. Our current Chairman and CEO, Fisk Johnson, has to continually navigate the economic challenges of the global business era.
But through any challenge that we face as a company, our founder Samuel’s legacy lives on. We persevere, because it’s the example Samuel set all those years ago, and now a deeply held value that propels us forward.
By the time he died in 1919, “Johnson’s Wax” had become a household name in the United States. Imagine what Samuel would think of our $10 billion global business today.