The Johnson Family Legacy

The Gift that Transformed a School

In 1982, the then Graduate School of Business and Public Administration defined a new mission and sharper focus. The faculty voted to eliminate all academic programs outside of business, but implementing the new mission in a competitive marketplace would require additional resources.

Two years later, the Johnson family made a $20-million endowment gift to the school, at the time the largest such gift ever to a business school. The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management was established.

Johnson is named for Samuel Curtis Johnson (1833-1919), who began his career as a manufacturer of wooden parquet floors in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1886, he decided to extend his company’s product line into wax to care for the floors he produced. The floor-care products soon outsold the flooring, and the international consumer products firm of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. was born.

Samuel C. Johnson, AB ’50, led his family in making the historic gift naming Cornell’s graduate business school for his great grandfather. In a 1988 volume on the history of his family’s company, Sam wrote of his progenitor: “He held the notion that business should put back something into the communities in which they are located. He also believed that a corporation should give back something to the broader group of consumers for which it has earned profits. Providing jobs in a community, he stated, while certainly important, is simply not enough.”