Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Even as a Lad, Orange Park's Caleb Johnson Was a Hard Worker

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Even as a Lad, Orange Park's Caleb Johnson Was a Hard Worker

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Jo McTammany

When, in the late 1870s, B.J. Johnson, owner of Milwaukee's Johnson Soap Company, leased a winter home from Orange Park's founder Washington Benedict, his son Caleb was just starting his first full-time job with the company.

From a lad, Caleb worked on Saturdays wrapping bars of soap and earning one and a half cents a case. As a regular employee at age 21, he became a traveling salesman and the company's lone representative on the road.

Caleb was a real go-getter and three years later, he negotiated for a percentage of the company profits. Two years after that, he moved into management and two salesman were hired to maintain the sales he had generated.

In 1884, the rising star married Elinor DeMass of Michigan and initiated a plan to modernize and increase production with the construction of a new plant in preparation for international expansion. The operation encompassed two blocks with two six-story buildings connected by a tunnel through which pipes pumped palm oil from storage tanks at an adjacent railroad siding. Caleb slid comfortably into the position of vice president of Johnson Soap Company.

Caleb was the man responsible for taking soap from a purely utilitarian, harsh and crude product to a pleasantly scented, still functional, beauty product - an affordable luxury. But it was not the relatively simple manufacturing changes made to produce a product that didn't remove skin with the dirt and smelled good to boot that made him a visionary of the times.

Johnson was a marketing genius and embraced the embryonic advertising industry by hiring the Lord and Thomas advertising agency. Originally the company's laundry product, Galvanic Soap, was to be the focal product but after consultations the new toilet soap incorporating palm and olive oils was selected and the first ever "trial" advertising campaign was devised. …

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