Past, present and future: J&J opens museum on New Jersey campus showcasing 130 years of its historic healthcare

J&J's new museum features a changing exhibit space, updatable interactive exhibits, and on-loan items.

Johnson & Johnson has been a well-recognized healthcare brand for decades, and the company is using the last remaining building from its original campus to showcase its history. It's been transformed from an electrical outbuilding to a modern corporate museum, featuring interactive and digital exhibits along with traditional historical images, photos, stories and exhibits.

For instance, visitors to the museum experience—called “Our Story at the Powerhouse"—can enter a “scent booth” to reconnect with the feelings stirred by J&J’s iconic baby shampoo scent; open the drawers of a turn-of-the-century pharmacy cabinet to learn what a trip to the pharmacy was like back then; or just marvel at a floor-to-ceiling display of 97 years of Band-Aid brand packaging.

J&J worked with professional museum design and planning firm Gallagher and Associates and architects JacobsWyper to create the corporate museum, which is initially open to just employees and campus visitors. However, the company plans to expand access to community and educational groups as soon as this fall, Alex Holland, Johnson & Johnson’s regional enterprise strategy and communication leader, said in an interview.

“About four years ago, there was a momentum to tap this untapped potential of, 'what can our heritage and legacy do for our reputation? How does it help not only our employees know our organization better, but also our external audiences know our organization better?'” Holland said. “… This project was the initiative to pull it all together to show not only the global reach of our organization, but also the reach across all elements of healthcare from consumer to lifesaving drugs.”

While corporate museums are nothing new—Hershey’s Chocolate World and the World of Coca-Cola are popular tourist destinations that charge double-digit admission fees—Johnson & Johnson’s step forward makes for a flashier first among healthcare and pharma companies’ more typically dusty archives. In fact, before the new museum, a previous J&J version was more of an old-school archive, open to employees and visitors by private tour only.

“I had walked through the previous museum many times, but now seeing everything positioned and highlighted in the right way is a really great honor to those who worked here and came before us,” Holland said. “… It’s not just a look at the past, but definitely a look at what we’re doing today and how we’re driving healthcare forward tomorrow.”

As J&J chief historian Margaret Gurowitz explained, the Powerhouse was built in 1907 and is significant not only because it is the last of the original buildings, but also because it was where Robert Wood Johnson—the son of one of the three brother co-founders, who would write J&J’s credo in 1943—began his career as a teenager as a millhand sweeping floors.

“One thing that is constantly brought home to me through this project—and I’ve worked with our archives and heritage for many years—is how much of modern life and modern healthcare and personal care was invented at Johnson & Johnson,” she said.

J&J innovated sterile surgery with its founding, created the first commercial first-aid kit and the first mass-produced dental floss, and, of course, invented those famous Band-Aid adhesive bandages, Gurowitz said, and those items and more are now on display for broader discovery. Like traditional museums, the J&J Powerhouse will feature a changing exhibit space (it's currently displaying a World War I exhibit that includes information on J&J’s role in transforming battlefield healthcare), updatable interactive exhibits, and on-loan items. On current long-term loan from a museum in Belgium are the medical school journals of Dr. Paul Janssen, who founded J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Along with its on-campus museum, J&J launched an online Our Story website that allows people to digitally visit some of the same historic interactive features and stories.