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Our History

In 1885, long before anyone talks about carbon footprints or climate change, Warren Johnson launches a company to explore new ways to harness and conserve precious energy resources. In doing so, he also launches a tradition of customer-focused innovation—a tradition that has inspired thousands of employees for more than 130 years and that continues to drive the success of Johnson Controls. Even before he founds the firm now known as Johnson Controls, Warren Johnson is the quintessential inventor. His pneumatic tower clocks, electric storage batteries, wireless telegraph business and steam-powered luxury cars and postal service trucks anticipate—and shape—the future.

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This Month in History
pfister testimonial
Noted Milwaukeean Guido Pfister has Johnson system installed in his residence, August 15, 1887

On August 15, 1887, the wealthy Milwaukee businessman Guido Pfister (1818-1889) contracted with the Johnson Electric Service Company (JESC) to provide $400 worth of temperature regulation for his residence. Pfister, born in Hechingen, Germany, had arrived in Milwaukee in 1847 intent on making his fortune. Indeed, he would go on to do so in the leather tanning business as cofounder (with Frederick Vogel) of the Pfister and Vogel Tanning Company. This company eventually became the largest leather tanning company in the Midwest. In the late 1880s, Pfister set out to realize another dream – to build "the Grand Hotel of the West." Unfortunately, Pfister died before his dream could be realized, and the task was passed on to his son, Charles. Construction began on the Pfister Hotel in 1890. Charles must have been impressed with the operation of the JESC system in the family home, as he also installed a Johnson system in the hotel – making it the first hotel in the world with individual room temperature control. This was just one of many luxury items incorporated into the Pfister which made it, at a cost of $1 million, the most expensive hotel in the world upon its completion in 1893. Over the years, the Pfister has played host to numerous celebrities and dignitaries, including many American presidents and foreign heads of state. Today, the Pfister continues to thrive as Milwaukee's premier luxury hotel.