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.
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.
1885 - 1910 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.
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.”
A McClure’s magazine ad promises “domestic harmony and budget savings” with the Johnson Electric Service Company Furnace Draft Regulator.
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.
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.
Johnson Service Company introduces a line of gasoline cars featuring luxurious leather and wood interiors.
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.”
1910 - 1935 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.
Globe Electric Company, a future Johnson Controls business, begins making electrical equipment for streetcars and street lights, and soon adds automotive battery production.
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.
Future Johnson Controls business Hoover Steel Ball Company opens to serve the precision bearing and automotive industries. Years later, it expands into automotive seating.
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.
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.
The Johnson Service Company’s pneumatic system for temperature and humidity control promises fuel savings of up to 35 percent.
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.
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.
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.
1935 - 1960 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.”
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.
Johnson Service Company goes public, listing its securities over the counter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The company changes its name to Johnson Controls, Inc.
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.
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.
1985 - 2012 Global Leadership
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Johnson Controls achieves US$5.2 billion in sales.