Where it all began – How Arthur Guy Johnson founded Johnson’s during one of the darkest times in history

Where it all began – How Arthur Guy Johnson founded Johnson’s during one of the darkest times in history

July 31st 2021 marks Johnson’s Veterinary Products 100th year of trading in the pet care industry. From our humble beginnings producing pigeon and poultry care products to becoming a globally-recognised pet brand, we are extremely proud of how far our family-run business has come in the past century. To kickstart the birthday celebrations, we decided to go back into the archives to bring you the story of the man who started it all – our founder Arthur Guy Johnson.  

Who was Johnson’s founder Arthur Guy Johnson?

Many animal care and pet products that you find on the market today were originally developed in the farming trade or in commercial product labs. Yet what is both unusual and amazing about our story is that the first Johnsons products brought to market were created in the kitchen of a humble iron worker. 

Arthur Guy Johnson was born in 1873 in West Bromwich – a large market town located in the Black Country – and worked as a clerk for William Cross & Sons iron foundry during the peak of Britain’s industrial revolution. Despite the boom of mining and industry in the West Midlands, worker exploitation was notoriously high, and with little government regulation on wages, employee rights or worker protection legislation, most working-class people faced long hours and salaries that barely supported their families. 

Johnson’s Veterinary Products founder Arthur Guy Johnson, on his wedding day to Ethel May Howard.

This was also the case for Arthur. He had married his wife Ethel May Howard in 1907 at the age of 34, which was followed quickly by the births of their sons Arthur Howard Johnson in 1908 and Raymond George Johnson in 1910. Arthur’s salary from the iron foundry was so meagre that he often struggled to support his young family. Therefore, shortly after the birth of his second son, Arthur decided that something had to change for him to provide a better life for his wife and children. 

Whilst exploring alternative job opportunities, Arthur had noticed a gap in the market for animal care products. At the time there was considerable interest in the keeping of pigeons, poultry and dogs, yet very few products were being sold for their upkeep and care.  

From his small kitchen at their family home in Hope Street, West Bromwich, Arthur began experimenting with different recipes, with an idea that he could sell his formulas to the retail trade – making animal care products much easier and accessible for purchase for the average consumer. 

The Johnson Family (from right to left) Arthur Senior, Arthur Junior, Ethel and Raymond 

The Impact of World War One 

However, his aspirations of starting his own business were quickly halted when the first world war broke out in 1914. Although Arthur was not enlisted to fight (being too old to join at 41 years) the impact of the war on British economy made launching a new business almost impossible.  

As the war continued to rampage across Europe, Arthur chose to use this period quietly adapting and modifying his product recipes. Over the space of a decade he created Johnson’s first three products – Roup Cure, Reviving Tonic and Ovary Tonic for poultry. 

13 Hope Street, where the first Johnson’s products were created.

Three years after the war ended in 1918, Arthur’s concoctions had been perfected and he was finally ready to bring them to market. He left his job at the iron foundry and started his first company under the name ‘Johnson Brothers, Poultry Specialists’ in 1921.  

With the help of his sons Arthur Junior and Raymond – who both joined the business straight after leaving school – Arthur travelled across the West Midlands, selling his poultry care products directly to “corn chandlers” (stores in the twentieth century that sold animal and livestock food).  

26 Bagnall Street, where the Johnsons family later resided and set up the first business premises
26 Bagnall Street, where the Johnsons family later resided and set up the first business premises.

The First Signs of Success

Arthur’s products were an instant success, and after just five years he was able to move his family from their small home on Hope Street to a much larger premise on Bagnall Street. The spacious grounds on their new property allowed for the construction of workshops and offices, and by 1939 Arthur had not only expanded his line for poultry and birds but was also making products for dogs – with the first dog care line including medicine to treat worms, fur condition and temperament issues.

One of Johnson’s earliest products for dogs 

In 1945 Arthur retired from the business and handed over all responsibilities to his two sons. He passed away in 1961 at the age of 88, at which point the business had not only relocated its premises to Sutton Coldfield (where it remains today) but had expanded its line to 320 products: catering to cats, birds and dogs.  

Where Johnson’s are today

100 years after its launch, Johnson’s Veterinary Products remains an independent company, of which David Johnson (the grandson of our founder Arthur) is still involved. Johnson’s Veterinary Products are now sold worldwide, as we work hard to continue developing and producing the most innovative pet care products for cats and dogs, in addition to expanding our lines for small animals such as rats, birds, fish, guinea pigs and rabbits.  

We take immense pride in how far we have come in the past one hundred years, and are sure that had Arthur lived to see where we are today, he would have been amazed at how far his homemade animal care recipes have come! 

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