Three free tours at the S C Johnson Company Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, are now available. Ruth and I took the 2 hour Landmarks Tour that meant access to the workroom and research tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Fortaleza Hall. Landmarks was incredibly popular so, if you’re interested, definitely book on-line in advance. The staff was turning away walk-ins. Photography and lingering were strictly forbidden and every move controlled.
Andrew, our guide, took us first to the Administration Building’s light-filled (pitched skylights, etc.) Great Workroom completed in 1939 and still in use. It’s a vast open space because Frank Lloyd Wright believed that cubicles stunted creativity. Our group was clearly fascinated by the rather tree-shaped concrete dendriform columns that made office space look like a fanciful architectural forest for workers. Some thought they looked more like stiletto heels than trees. I was fascinated by the fact that they seemed top-heavy, as in innovative. After listening to Andrew’s presentation, we couldn’t wander about but could examine 8 Wright-designed display desks, maple for workers and walnut for executives. The 3 legged desk chairs became a problem because Wright designed posture seats for the mostly female workers with a single leg in front. Leaning in or crossing legs led to falling forward. When this was brought to his attention, F L told the Johnson in charge to get his employees to sit correctly. As was typical with many Wright properties, the roof leaked.
We walked from the Great Workroom to the 15-story Research Tower that opened to product developers in 1950. In their first 8 years in the cantilevered Tower, scientists developed Off, Raid, Glade, and Pledge. TV was in its infancy and S C, now in charge, apparently realized its potential to promote products. Wright had designed a building with a weight-bearing circular core that looked, to me, like a giant wax canister. Like the Great Workroom, the Tower had its problems. Shampoo dumped in drains upstairs would sometimes reappear in basement toilets. It was windy–inside. It was so bright that researchers requested sunglasses. The building closed in 1982 and opened to the general public for the first time in May, 2014.
We walked to Fortaleza Hall via a tunnel lined with yet more info about the S C Johnson Company where I learned that Ziplock, Kiwi, and Windex were added to its portfolio over time. Opened in 2010 as a tribute to S C Johnson, Jr., Fortaleza Hall had a replica of the Sikorsky S-38 amphibious airplane that figured prominently in the Johnson family saga dangling from it ceiling, a special new exhibit called “At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright” focusing on the 2 Taliesins, a gift shop, and a lot more about the Johnsons. “At Home…” will be up for a year before being changed.
In my opinion, Landmark participants learn as much about the amazing Johnson family as they do about Wright. Impressively, the company is now run by Herbert Fisk, the 5th generation of Johnsons in charge. In 1886 Samuel Curtis Johnson mixed the company’s 1st batch of wax in a bathtub after buying a parquet flooring company. Herbert F. Johnson, Jr. hired Wright when Wright needed a friend. 28-year-old Samuel. C Johnson, great-grandson of the founder, joined the company in 1954 and took it to greatness.