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.
Warren Johnson patents the “electric tele-thermoscope,” a building temperature-control device, and travels from his Whitewater, Wis., home to Milwaukee in search of manufacturing financing.
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Warren Johnson partners with Milwaukee businessman and financier William Plankinton to form the Johnson Electric Service Company. Johnson serves as vice president and treasurer, and Plankinton as president. Installations at the Milwaukee Public Library and city hall help the business grow quickly.
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The Spirit of Invention
In the age of Edison, Bell, Daimler, Pasteur, Tesla and Ericsson, anything seems possible. It’s an era of firsts: electric lights, internal combustion engines, X-rays and hydroelectric power plants.
Against this backdrop, Warren Johnson toils for three years to invent a device to regulate room temperature. In 1883, he receives his first patent for what will be known as the electric room thermostat—an invention that launches an industry and changes how people live. Within two years, his quickly growing Johnson Electric Service Company brings evenly regulated temperatures to buildings around the world.
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Warren Johnson and associates patent steam valves, steam traps, pressure reduction valves, water heaters, hydraulic air compressors and electric meters in developing the first automatic zone temperature control system. A century later, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers calls it “the grandfather of all control systems.”
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A McClure’s magazine ad promises “domestic harmony and budget savings” with the Johnson Electric Service Company Furnace Draft Regulator.
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William Plankinton retires and Warren Johnson becomes president. Johnson’s drive for innovation leads to patents for an “auto-carriage” steam generator and a forerunner of power steering. Over the next 11 years, Johnson Electric Service Company makes 1,000 steam-powered cars, fire trucks, limousines and ambulances.
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With installations worldwide—including the U.S. Capitol, the New York Stock Exchange, a Warsaw factory and a palace in Tokyo—Johnson Electric Service Company changes its name to Johnson Service Company and moves to the downtown Milwaukee site that is now headquarters for Johnson Controls Building Efficiency.
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Johnson Service Company introduces a line of gasoline cars featuring luxurious leather and wood interiors.
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The first skyscraper, Singer Sewing Machine’s New York City headquarters, has “every approved modern device for comfort, convenience and safety,” including 1,200 Johnson Service Company room thermostats. Future Johnson Controls company York International’s refrigeration system delivers “a continuous supply of cold drinking water.”
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Comfort Catches On
Construction booms. The elevator sends buildings to new heights—and multi-zone temperature controls make them comfortable places to work.
Harry Ellis becomes president when Warren Johnson passes away in 1911. Ellis sells the automotive and pneumatic clock businesses. Like Johnson, though, he emphasizes efficient manufacturing and dedicated customer service, insisting that only company technicians install Johnson Service Company building control systems.
World War I takes a bite out of civilian construction, but the company’s innovative products become money-saving necessities during the Great Depression.
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Globe Electric Company, a future Johnson Controls business, begins making electrical equipment for streetcars and street lights, and soon adds automotive battery production.
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A 15-cent U.S. postage stamp acknowledges the country’s transition to the horseless carriage, depicting a postal delivery truck made by Johnson Service Company.
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Future Johnson Controls business Hoover Steel Ball Company opens to serve the precision bearing and automotive industries. Years later, it expands into automotive seating.
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Civilian construction slows during World War I, and Johnson Service Company becomes ineligible for military procurement when the U.S. government categorizes its products as luxuries. The company continues to thrive, though, by retrofitting old buildings with temperature controls.
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As a new decade dawns, a war-weary public seeks out entertainment. Motion pictures are all the rage, and Johnson Service Company gets into the act with a product that helps make movie houses a haven of comfort: controls for air conditioning.
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The Johnson Service Company’s pneumatic system for temperature and humidity control promises fuel savings of up to 35 percent.
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Johnson Service Company buys the patent for a dual thermostat developed by the chief custodian of the New York City schools (and a Johnson Service Company customer). The device lowers temperatures automatically by sensing increasing air pressure when occupants leave a room and reduces fuel consumption—a boon during the Great Depression.
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Many companies cut costs when the stock market crashes, but Johnson Service Company’s sales remain strong for years due to a backlog of orders—and a rising demand for the dual thermostat, which automatically cuts fuel consumption when spaces are unoccupied.
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A worsening economy forces Johnson Service Company to lay off workers, reduce salaries and move sales offices to salesmen’s homes. With construction stagnant, the company focuses on retrofitting older buildings with the Duo-Stat, which saves fuel by adjusting indoor temperature as outdoor conditions change.
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Thriving on Innovation
As the Depression grinds on, government employment programs generate construction projects for private and public buildings that need temperature regulation systems. When war breaks out again, the U.S. government classifies Johnson Service Company’s products as essential.
The war’s end unleashes demand for new buildings with modern features like air conditioning. Johnson Service Company responds by developing a pneumatic control center for controlling temperature from one location. Emphasis shifts from individual room controls to “zone control systems.”
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Joseph Cutler, who started with Johnson Service Company as a sales engineer in 1912, becomes president. Over the next 22 years, he reorganizes the sales force and adds 79 branch offices, and sales grow from $3 million in 1939 to $67.3 million in 1960.
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Johnson Service Company goes public, listing its securities over the counter.
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The U.S. government classifies building controls as essential to the war effort because they improve worker efficiency in defense plants and save fuel needed in combat zones. Johnson Service Company equips U.S. military training facilities and defense plants with temperature and humidity control systems.
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With the war’s end, new construction increases, as does demand for skilled workers. Johnson Service Company launches its first formal technical training program in New York. The Johnson Technical Institute offers the equivalent of two free years of college to employees who complete night classes or correspondence courses.
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The new United Nations building in New York City epitomizes a fresh generation of construction. Fully air-conditioned, it requires 3,600 Johnson Service Company thermostats and ancillary controls.
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Eli Lilly & Company rushes researcher Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine into mass production at its Indianapolis, Indiana, plant. Johnson Service Company installs critical temperature-regulating apparatus in rooms where the virus is grown.
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Business booms for Johnson Service Company as control systems grow more complex. The numbers of employees, branches and installations hit all-time highs, thanks to demand for pneumatic control centers that let one person monitor an entire building’s room and water temperatures and ventilation from one location.
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Johnson Service Company’s sales surpass US$1 billion after merging with Penn Controls. The renamed Johnson Controls expands its technological capabilities through acquisitions, starting with Globe-Union, the largest U.S. manufacturer of automotive batteries. By adding seating and plastics machinery firm Hoover Universal and seating supplier Ferro Manufacturing, Johnson Controls can design, engineer and assemble complete automotive seating systems.
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Richard Murphy becomes president. He holds that position for six years, but his overall service to the company is longer than any other employee—an amazing 63 years.
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Having already begun serving international markets through subsidiaries in England, France, Australia, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland, Johnson Service Company builds its first European manufacturing plant in Lomagna, Italy. Worldwide sales exceed US$100 million.
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Now listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Johnson Service Company provides climate controls to prevent rain clouds forming in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Cape Canaveral, Florida, vehicle assembly building. Future Johnson Controls company York International installs 10,500 tons of water chillers for air conditioning.
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Fred Brengel becomes the company’s sixth president. During his 21-year tenure, building control products are computerized, acquisitions move the company into automotive batteries and seating, and sales climb from US$140 million to $3.1 billion.
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Johnson Service Company enters the Fortune 500 after acquiring refrigeration and gas heating controls maker Penn Controls. Product line additions include refrigeration controls for supermarkets, humidity controls for agricultural drying equipment, and controls for commercial laundromats.
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Johnson Service Company introduces the JC/80, the first mini-computer for controlling building systems. It cuts fuel consumption 30 percent—and encourages building owners to automate as oil prices skyrocket. The company also adds computerized fire control and security systems for commercial buildings.
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The company changes its name to Johnson Controls, Inc.
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Johnson Controls becomes the leader in U.S. automotive battery production when it acquires Globe-Union. Founded in 1911 as Globe Electric, the company had invented the thin-wall, high-strength polypropylene battery case, a universally recognized breakthrough in battery design.
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Diversification at Johnson Controls continues with the acquisition of Hoover Universal (the source of its automotive seating and plastics machinery businesses), and automotive seating supplier Ferro Manufacturing. The acquisitions mean Johnson Controls can design, engineer and assemble complete automotive seating systems.
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Personal computers, mobile phones and the Internet change the world, while customer focus, globalization and outsourcing shape the business landscape. Johnson Controls achieves exceptional growth by remaining true to its core values of environmental stewardship, diversity and community support.
Entering the 21st century, the company adds business operations and customers worldwide. Its 130,000 employees provide products and services for more than 200 million vehicles, 12 million homes and one million commercial buildings—and lead the way into the future.
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The first Johnson Controls just-in-time automotive facilities in Indiana, Illinois and Ontario deliver sequenced seats to factories within hours of receiving orders. The battery unit adds Honda, Mazda and Toyota as customers and is the first aftermarket parts maker to win Ford’s “Q1 Preferred Quality Award.”
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Jim Keyes becomes president. During his 14-year tenure, Johnson Controls becomes a major automotive supplier, the battery division rebuilds after losing Sears as a customer, the controls division transitions from analog to digital, and overall sales increase six-fold.
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Johnson Controls enters facilities management by acquiring Pan Am World Services, renaming it Global Workplace Solutions, and initiates annual forums that attract speakers such as U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to discuss energy issues and climate change.
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The breakthrough Metasys® Building Automation System links a building’s environmental control, energy management, lighting, fire management and security systems. Johnson Controls enters the European automotive market by purchasing an interest in German component maker E.A.H. Naue GmbH & Co. KG.
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Johnson Controls achieves US$5.2 billion in sales.
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When Sears ends its relationship with Johnson Controls, company leaders respond by implementing best business practices that identify key metrics to drive performance and reduce costs companywide. All the lost business is replaced even before Sears returns as a customer two years later.
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Johnson Controls makes seats for more than eight million new automobiles, is listed in Industry Week Magazine’s “100 Best Managed Companies in The World,” acquires Prince Automotive and greatly expands its automotive interior systems business. Sales approach US$10 billion.
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Having been in plastics since acquiring Hoover Universal, Johnson Controls is the largest U.S. soft drink bottle supplier and recycler and the world leader in plastic manufacturing and recycling technology—but sells its container and plastics machinery divisions to focus on core products. Making seats for Beijing Jeep opens new markets in China.
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Johnson Controls ranks first among South America’s automotive seating suppliers, installs its 10,000th Metasys® Building Automation System and acquires the Becker Group, a European automotive interior supplier, and Cardkey integrated security solutions.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Buildings program names Johnson Controls “Ally of the Year.” The company also receives a General Motors “Supplier of the Year” award and the “Mandela International Award for Good Diversity Practices.”
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Johnson Controls acquires Japanese automobile seat supplier Ikeda Bussan and introduces the Auto Vision in-vehicle video system. The company’s Brengel Technology Center in Milwaukee is one of the first buildings in the world certified under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED).
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Terrorists crash a jetliner into the U.S. Pentagon on September 11, killing 64 passengers and 125 people inside in the resulting firestorm. The Pentagon facilities manager says a Johnson Controls building operations control center installed two months earlier let him close dampers to contain fire and smoke, potentially limiting further casualties.
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Johnson Controls acquires its Varta automotive battery division based in Germany. Sales exceed US$20 billion. John Barth is named the company's eighth CEO.
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The company acquires Borg Instruments of Germany and is named to the Billion Dollar Roundtable for exceeding US$1 billion in purchases from diverse suppliers.
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The U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium taps Johnson Controls to develop Li-Ion hybrid vehicle batteries. Dividends increase for the 30th year in a row. The company earns a World Environment Center gold medal for sustainable development, and the Brengel Technology Center is LEED® Gold certified.
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Johnson Controls makes its largest ever acquisition: York International heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and refrigeration products and services, with worldwide presence. The company also acquires Delphi’s global automotive battery business and is named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.
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In a year of sales exceeding US$30 billion, Johnson Controls hosts U.S. President George W. Bush for a major energy speech at Building Efficiency headquarters in Milwaukee.
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The "open globe" logo debuts and Steve Roell is named the company’s ninth CEO. Johnson Controls is a founding partner in the Clinton Climate Initiative’s Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program. A joint venture with China’s Fengfan Ltd. to make sealed lead acid batteries creates an edge in developing countries.
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Best business practices and forecasting keep Johnson Controls ahead even as automakers suffer in a global economic crash. The company purchases US$1.65 billion from woman- and minority-owned suppliers and is Walmart’s “Automotive Supplier of the Year.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers names the 1895 temperature control system a “mechanical engineering landmark.”
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Johnson Controls is a major player in reducing the Empire State Building’s energy use by up to 38 percent. Walmart makes Johnson Controls its sole source of automotive, marine, powersport and lawn and garden batteries. The re3 (Rethink, Renew, Respond) concept car, a five-passenger plug-in hybrid, debuts at American auto shows.
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In the company’s 125th year, its Glendale, Wis., headquarters is LEED® Platinum certified. Building Efficiency takes on its largest order ever for work on the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the Holland, Mich., battery plant is the first in the U.S. to make complete hybrid and electric vehicle Li-Ion battery cells.
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Corporate Responsibility magazine lists Johnson Controls No. 1 among the “100 Best Corporate Citizens” in the U.S. Worldwide revenue surpasses $40 billion. Acquiring German companies C. Rob. Hammerstein and Keiper/Recaro lets Automotive Experience offer a full menu of metal components and mechanisms.
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Power Solutions opens its first U.S. battery recycling center in Florence, South Carolina, featuring advanced environmental controls. The Stephen A. Roell Innovation Center opens in Milwaukee, underscoring the Johnson Controls commitment to fostering new ideas and creating new value for customers.
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Prince Olav visits Globe-Union
June 21, 1939
On June 21, 1939, Olav, the crown prince of Norway, visited Globe-Union, Inc.'s (the predecessor of today's Johnson Controls Power Solutions business unit) Milwaukee battery manufacturing facilities during his U. S. tour. Prince Olav came at the invitation of Globe president Chester O. Wanvig, himself a proud Norwegian-American who had donated generously to charitable causes in Norway. And whatever became of Olav? Well, it took almost 20 years from the time of his Milwaukee visit for the man who would be king to actually become king (in 1957), a role that he served until his death in 1991 at the age of 87. Nicknamed the "People's King," his passing prompted a great outpouring of grief by the Norwegian people, who lit hundreds of thousands of candles in memoriam in the courtyard outside the Royal Castle in Oslo. (Norway's Prince Olav and Princess Martha are pictured attending a concert in Milwaukee during their June 1939 visit.)
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The first board meeting
May 1, 1885
The first board meeting of the Johnson Electric Service Company (Johnson Controls' original name) took place in the office of Milwaukee financier William Plankinton in the Plankinton Hotel on Friday, May 1, 1885. The incorporators and original stockholders were Plankinton, who was named president; Warren Johnson, who was named vice president and treasurer (while Johnson would serve as day-to-day company manager, he would not be named president until 1901); and Captain Irving Bean, who was named secretary. They had filed incorporation papers several days earlier, on April 20. The Company charter was to "manufacture, sell, and deal in electric and pneumatic apparatus, and to construct and apply the same to public and private buildings in order to regulate temperature ... ." At the meeting, Johnson assigned his patents to the Company and agreed to assign all future patents in the field of temperature regulation to the Company as well. As to finances, the capital stock of the Company was $150,000 - 3,000 shares at $50 each. Plankinton contributed the total capital amount of $150,000, for which he received joint ownership in Warren Johnson's patents and 1,499 shares. Johnson also received 1,499 shares, with the remaining two shares going to Irving Bean.
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Czech ambassador's visit
April 17, 1996
Michael Žantovský, the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States (pictured, left), discussed his country's future with Johnson Controls management during a visit to Milwaukee, Wis. on April 17, 1996. Žantovský stressed his country's stability, stating "we have the most stable environment of all the post-communist countries. There has been extensive privatization, coupled with a relaxation of trade and economic regulations. Our currency is strong, the economy is growing steadily and there is a solid influx of foreign investment." James Keyes, Johnson Controls' CEO and chairman at that time (pictured on the right), agreed with Žantovský's comments and promised to expand the company's presence there.
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March 29, 1983
An article about Johnson Controls system installations in airports in the U. S. and abroad was featured in the March 29, 1983 edition of "Briefing," a newsletter for Johnson Controls managers. One such installation was at Heathrow - London's well-known airport. Johnson Controls Systems Limited used an SDC 8001 (see photo) building automation system for the Heathrow project. Earlier in 1983, Johnson had been awarded a full systems and services contract for work on the 1984 Olympics-related expansion of the Los Angeles International Airport. Other Johnson airport projects at that time included those in Zürich, Switzerland; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, West Germany; and the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.
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Globe-Union's roller skate manufacturing
Feb. 20, 1938
"Recessions bring good business for Globe-Union, Inc., in roller skates …" states the caption for this photograph published in the Milwaukee News-Sentinel from Feb. 20, 1938. According to Globe (which was acquired by Johnson Controls in 1978), roller skate sales increased in hard economic times (this was the Great Depression era) as families sought more inexpensive forms of recreation. Globe began manufacturing roller skates in 1931 at its Milwaukee plant (where this photograph was taken) as a means to maintain employment of workers subject to seasonal lay-offs in its other divisions.
By the early 1950s, the company had become one of the nation's top three makers of roller skates. Production eventually moved to a new suburban Milwaukee facility in 1962. Three years later (1965), Globe sold its roller skate manufacturing operations to the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, indicating at the time that roller skate manufacturing no longer fit with its other product lines (e. g., batteries).
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Johnson Service Company installation in South Africa
Jan. 7, 1925
Johnson Controls' international activity in its first 40 years was not confined strictly to the European continent and Asia. In fact, one early Johnson Service Company (Johnson Controls’ former name) installation occurred in South Africa. A drawing dated Jan. 7, 1925 and depicting the "layout of automatic control of refrigerating plant" was completed for the customer Dowson & Dobson of Johannesburg, South Africa. The firm still exists in South Africa to this day; it is now known as D & D Industrial, a member of the Actum Group.
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Johnson's early automotive history
Dec. 13, 1962
The early automotive history of the Johnson Service Company (now Johnson Controls) was described in a column entitled "Jaunts with Jamie" in the Dec. 13, 1962, issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel. The article states that "one of Milwaukee's outstanding automobile manufacturing adventures was that of the Johnson Service Co., back in 1901 through 1912." The first Johnson vehicle was a one-ton truck, manufactured in 1901. Up until 1905, all Johnson vehicles were steam powered, but that was soon to change. Company founder Warren Johnson greatly admired the gas-driven cars he saw when he traveled to London and Paris, and following his return from Europe at the beginning of 1905, he ordered that all Johnson vehicles be redesigned with gas-driven engines. In the years that followed, the company made several standard models and many customized vehicles. But with the death of Warren Johnson in December 1911, the company's automotive manufacturing would cease as well. Warren Johnson's successor, Harry Ellis, ordered an end to all manufacturing except temperature controls, a sector that the company would soon come to dominate.
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Temperature control installation in China
Nov. 9, 1916
The Qing Dynasty had fallen only five years earlier. The Republic of China was in its infancy. And Johnson Controls was there! A drawing dated Nov. 9, 1916, for "thermostatic control" for refrigerating machinery at the U. S. Marine barracks in Peking (now Beijing) provides evidence of the first known Johnson Service Co. (as Johnson Controls was then known) temperature control installation in China. Several thermostats controlled the temperature of refrigerators designated for ice, meat and vegetable storage.
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Oct. 30, 1908
At the turn of the last century, postcards served as an effective means of getting the word out about a company's goods and services in a visually appealing way. The Johnson Service Company (Johnson Controls' former name) used several hundred different postcards to inform building owners and architects about recent installations of the "Johnson System of Temperature Regulation," with a picture of the building on the front of the card, and a brief description of the system installation on the back. One such postcard (depicted here), bearing a postmark dated October 30, 1908, was sent to Myron Church, a Chicago architect. Pictured on the front of the postcard was the state capitol of Ohio, where the company had installed its temperature control system a few years earlier.
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Pentagon terrorist attack
Sept. 11, 2001
When the Department of Defense selected Johnson Controls in 1997 to design and install a new energy management and environmental control system in the Pentagon as part of a massive renovation of the historic and symbolic building, little did they know that the system would not only save money, but lives as well.
Under the contract, Johnson Controls installed a Metasys® Energy Management and Control System to measure, monitor, and manage building functions from a central command center. Metasys' ability to communicate with the older controls systems in the building, including those made by other companies, allowed the system to control not only the renovated portions of the building, but those awaiting renovation. Thus, Pentagon building operators were able to monitor and control the entire complex with Metasys throughout all phases of the renovation project.
Johnson Controls employees finished the Pentagon's Building Operations Control Center in June 2001 – which turned out to be timelier than they could have imagined. When terrorists flew a commercial airliner into the Pentagon three months later on Sept. 11, 2001, the Metasys system helped keep an already horrible situation from becoming even worse. After the attack, Pentagon building operators were able to use Metasys to isolate the damaged portion of the building and keep deadly smoke from entering the other areas of the building. Just a day after the attack, 4.5 million square feet of the Pentagon remained open and building employees were able to continue working.
According to Steve Carter, Pentagon Assistant Building Manager at the time of the attack, "The systems we put in place were instrumental in getting smoke out and keeping the fire contained. In a matter of hours, we took systems that were installed to save energy and improve indoor environments and used them to provide air barriers. This stopped smoke infiltration, minimized the spread of damage, and most importantly, potentially saved lives."
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