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George F. Johnson Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

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Biographical History

George Francis Johnson (1857-1948), industrialist, was born in Milford, Massachusetts, October 14, 1857, the son of Frank A. Johnson, an itinerant shoemaker, and Sarah Jane Aldrich. His schooling ended at age thirteen, when he was given a job at the Seaver Brothers Shoe Factory in Ashland, Massachusetts. Like his father, Johnson moved from town to town during his youth in search of better employment in the boot industry.

In 1881 he became foreman for George and Horace Lester, manufacturers of shoes, of Binghamton, New York. When the Lester Brothers in 1891 were forced to turn over the company to Henry B. Endicott, their chief creditor, Endicott retained Johnson as overall manager of the factory. By 1909 Johnson had worked his way up to a partnership beside Henry B. Endicott and Eliot Spalding.

In 1919 the Lestershire Manufacturing Company was rechartered as the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corporation, having a capital of close to $30 million. Endicott died the following year, leaving Johnson as the obvious candidate for corporation president. He was further promoted to Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1930. By this time the corporation had expanded to a firm of twenty-eight plants and 18,000 employees, and production was averaging 45 million pairs of shoes a year.

Johnson's management of the firm was not only successful; it was innovative. He developed a philosophy of industrial organization and labor-management relations which is identified with "industrial democracy." His controversial methods were discussed in national publications throughout the twenties and thirties.

George F. Johnson married twice. Lucie Willis, his first wife, accompanied him to New York but she died before he began his successful career with Endicott. In 1896, Johnson took Mary McGlone as his second wife. They had a daughter, Lillian, now Mrs. Lloyd Sweet. Johnson's children by the first marriage were George W., Walter L., Zaida (later Mrs. M. W. Robertson), and Irma (later Mrs. R. Clay). Two boys, Ernest and Earl, died in childhood. Son George W. Johnson, nephew Charles F. Johnson, Jr., and grandson Frank A. Johnson figured prominently as officers of the Endicott-Johnson Corporation, especially after George F. Johnson retired from close supervision of the firm in the late thirties.

Mary McGlone Johnson died on October 1, 1947, and George F. Johnson died the following year on November 28. His legacy included a business which remained a major producer of staple footwear, a corporate philosophy whose merits are still debated, and a record of little or no industrial strife through the labor-management turmoil of the 1920's and 1930's.

George F. Johnson: A Personal Recollection
by Lillian Johnson Sweet

Much has been written about my father, George F. Johnson, and his wisdom, generosity, business acumen and success in the field of labor-management relations. I knew him as a loving and beloved parent.

His father, Francis A. Johnson, was a stern and uncompromising man; his mother, Sarah Jane, a warm and compassionate woman. The characteristics of both parents influenced my father in large measure and were the basis for much of his development. I remember him through my early childhood and adolescent years as tender and fun-loving but also stern and awesome--all in about equal degrees.

My father's second marriage, to Mary Ann McGlone who became my mother five years later, was a happy partnership which lasted for fifty years. We were a close family and we spent the winters in Florida, where Father carried on his business with the help of a secretary and daily long distance telephone conversations. Business came before pleasure, but the enjoyment of games and social events was an important part of his life. We participated in or watched, with equal pleasure, ocean bathing, beach ball, golf, boxing matches, auto racing, concerts, dinner parties, picnics, walks and rides.

Father was a genuine sports enthusiast, with organized baseball claiming his most active interest. For many years he owned the Binghamton Triplets Ball Club, a member of the minor leagues. Judge Kenesaw M. Landis, baseball's best known commissioner, was a close friend of Father's and we covered the World Series circuit on special trains which carried Judge Landis and the competing teams to cities throughout the country.

Father confessed that money making had been his original objective as he achieved his first toe-hold in the business world, but he found that the acquisition of wealth alone was not a sufficient goal and a desire to serve humanity soon took precedence over his earlier aims. This desire was directed primarily toward improving the lot of the Endicott Johnson employees, who he always maintained were the backbone of his financial success. He began by improving working conditions, wages and living circumstances for those whom he termed his "working partners."

Homes were built and sold at cost. Playgrounds, recreation halls for bowling, roller skating and dancing were provided. Hospitals and a medical plan which received world-wide attention and acclaim were established. An eight-hour day, one of the first in a large industry, and other benefits were inaugurated.

There was opposition to these developments from a few of the corporation heads but despite misgivings on the part of many, Father persisted in carrying out his program, brooking no interference, and its ultimate success surpassed even his dreams.

As time went on, his concern for people broadened to include surrounding communities, where playgrounds, churches, swimming pools and parks now bear evidence of George F. Johnson's interest in human welfare.

In the cynical age with which we now contend, his business policies have too frequently been dismissed as paternalism. The intended slur in such a charge is obvious, but those of greater intellect and compassion will dismiss it on the ground of their own understanding.

In summation, I know no more true or graphic words to epitomize the life of my father than these: "The world was a better place because he walked through it."

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The George F. Johnson papers consist of biographical data, correspondence, subject files, articles and speeches, pamphlets, broadsides and posters, financial records, legal documents, serial publications and clippings, memorabilia, films and phonotapes.

Biographical data includes life sketches, random notes and questionnaires about Johnson and his family.

Correspondence, 1900-1945, is divided into four groups: incoming, outgoing (mainly in carbon), executive, and employee correspondence. Johnson's wide range of influence and interests may be gauged from the the first two groups of correspondence which include letters from presidents, state governors, religious leaders, foreign consuls, industrialists, and the laborers who worked in the Endicott-Johnson shops. The more significant correspondence is that of

Letters of lesser importance, but from noted personalities include those of

A complete roster of correspondents is provided in the shelf list. Much of the correspondence was damaged by fire before the papers were received. To obviate further damage to the letters through repeated handling, a microfilm of this portion of the collection has been made for research use.

The Endicott-Johnson Executive correspondence, 1901-1945, brings together the letters of George F. Johnson to officers of the firm as well as correspondence between company executives and their counterparts in other firms. The letters are generally confined to interdepartmental affairs, plant operation and market conditions.

The more significant letters among the executive correspondence include those of

A letter to Johnson from Henry Stude, Chairman of the National Bakers Council, November 23, 1934, is of interest for its views on industrial democracy.

Employee correspondence, 1920-1939, contains group letters to Johnson, mostly in the form of telegrams congratulating the head of the company upon an anniversary or the receipt of an industrial award; others express gratitude for bonuses.

The Subject files contains a small section of material relating to hospital plans, the International Business Machine Corporation, labor relations, and radio programming.

Articles and speeches by or about Johnson and the firm cover the years 1920-1967. The articles are in typescript, mimeograph and printed form, and are arranged chronologically, with articles about George F. Johnson first, followed by articles about the corporation. A select bibliography of Johnson's writings between 1929 and 1938 is included in the first folder of this group.

Pamphlets, broadsides and posters, 1910-1953, consist of printed materials advertising Endicott-Johnson products, or announcing employee benefits and labor policies of the company. Advertising pamphlets of competitors are also included. Most of the posters are titled To the Workers: and offer inspirational messages or statements of company policy and philosophy.

The larger part of Financial records consists of periodic reports and statements which reveal the overall financial condition and rate of shoe production and sales of the several Endicott-Johnson divisions such as Lestershire, Endicott, Johnson Welt and Leatherboard. The statistics in these reports are often broken down by factory and department. The financial statements recur on monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual bases, the concentration of records being within the period 1900-1930. Records of subsidiary utility, finance and realty companies, including the Endicott Water Works Company, Endicott-Johnson Realty Company, First National Bank of Lestershire and the Ontario Pipe Line Company, consist of balance sheets, statements and miscellaneous financial papers, and are located at the end of this group.

The Legal documents include corporate charters obtained from the states of New York, Maine and Massachusetts. Mortgages, leases and other property transactions will be found among these documents. Agreements with other firms for the provision of production materials or the guaranteeing of power and water resources for the factories are recorded in the folder titled "Manufacturing & utility contracts and sub-contracts, 1901-1919." While annual incomes of the partners were listed among the financial records ("Shares, stockholders and earnings, 1912-1921"), the formal terms of agreement about the distribution of profits among partners and supporting bankers are found in the folder titled "Partnership and stock agreements, 1907-1934."

Serial publications issued or sponsored by the Endicott-Johnson firm between 1919 and 1925 include issues of the company magazine, variously titled A Magazine, 1919, the E-J Workers' Review, 1919-1921, E-J Workers' Magazine, 1922-1925, and the Endicott-Johnson Workers Monthly Review, a single issue, 1933. These are followed by issues of "The Endicott Johnson Workers Daily Page," a regular feature of the Binghamton Sun, appearing from May 16, 1928, to December 30, 1930. The "Page" was devoted to human interest news about work and recreation engaged in by company employees, and it fulfilled much the same purpose as the firm's earlier magazine publications. Newspaper clippings, 1897-1948, about Henry B. Endicott, George F. Johnson, his wife, Endicott-Johnson workers, management philosophy and labor relations follow and are taken mostly from the Binghamton Sun, with smaller representations from Business Machines (published by IBM), the New York Daily Mirror, the Endicott Bulletin, the Endicott Times, the Lestershire-Endicott Record, the New York Times, the Owego Times, the Scrantonian, the New York Sun, the Syracuse Herald, the Wall Street Journal, and the Polish-American Obywatel of Binghamton. There is a folder of Johnson newspaper obituaries, eulogies and biographical material published in 1948, as well as scrapbooks of clippings taken from widely-scattered newspapers across the nation.

Among the Memorabilia, 1888-1956, are awards and decorations, commemorative pamphlets, drawings, photographs, printing plates and sheet music. The photographs of Rudy Vallee and Max Schmelling are autographed. A number of medals struck by the Sons of Italy, the editors of Forbes Magazine, and several local and national veterans' groups are also included.

Films and phonotapes, 1931-1951, include a 16mm film celebrating Johnson's fifty years with the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corporation. Magnetic tapes record Johnson's funeral in 1948 and the dedication of a monument in his memory in 1951.

The collection also contains blueprints, three scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, 1904-1936, and a few broadsides and photographic collages, all located in map cases or oversized packages.

Arrangement of the Collection

Incoming correspondence is arranged alphabetically by writer; outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically. Executive correspondence is arranged alphabetically under the name of the executive, then chronologically. Employee correspondence is arranged chronologically. Subject files are arranged alphabetically by subject. Articles and speeches are arranged alphabetically by type, then chronologically. Pamphlets, broadsides and posters are arranged in no particular order. Financial records are arranged alphabetically by type, then chronologically. Legal documents are arranged alphabetically by type. Serial publications and clippings are subdivided into journals (arranged alphabetically by publication title) and clippings (arranged chronologically). Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by type. Films and phonotapes are in no particular order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Barton, Bruce, 1886-1967.
Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933.
Coughlin, Charles E. (Charles Edward), 1891-1979.
Farley, James Aloysius, 1888-
Filene, E. A. (Edward Albert), 1860-1937.
Forbes, B. C. (Bertie Charles), 1880-1954.
Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964.
Johnson, George F., 1857-1948.
La Follette, Robert M. (Robert Marion), 1895-1953.
Landis, Kenesaw Mountain, 1866-1944.
Landon, Alfred M. (Alfred Mossman), 1887-1987.
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963.
Mack, Connie, 1862-1956.
Miller, Nathan Lewis, 1868-1953.
Penney, J. C. (James Cash), 1875-1971.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
Sloan, Alfred P. (Alfred Pritchard), 1875-1966.
Smith, Alfred Emanuel, 1873-1944.
Sunday, Billy, 1862-1935.
Tarbell, Ida M. (Ida Minerva), 1857-1944.
Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1877-1953.
Watson, Thomas John, 1874-1956.
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.

Corporate Bodies

Endicott-Johnson Corporation -- Employees.
Endicott-Johnson Corporation -- History -- Sources.


Executives -- New York (State)
Footwear industry -- New York (State)
Industrial relations -- United States.
Industrialists -- United States.
Manufactures -- United States.
Shoe industry -- Employees.
Shoe industry -- New York (State)


Endicott (N.Y.) -- Industries.

Genres and Forms

Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Broadsides (notices)
Financial records.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

George F. Johnson Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Lloyd M. Sweet and the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corporation, December, 1963, August, 1965, and July, August and November, 1967.

Table of Contents

Biographical data


Subject files

Articles and speeches

Pamphlets, broadsides and posters

Financial records

Legal documents

Serial publications and clippings


Films and phonotapes