The firm of Potter & Birks operated from a 6-storey building at 15 Grosvenor Street, Sydney during the first half of the last century. There were no direct references to the business in the State Library of New South Wales, other than a monthly magazine published by the company titled Red Chain Messenger, which was published for Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ, by their agents, Potter & Birks Ltd. Sydney. It was mailed gratis to every pharmacist in Australia. The monthly publication contained a publisher’s note: “It is primarily intended to give information in respect to Red Chain Products, together with such items that may be of general interest to our readers”. A picture of the building at 15 Grosvenor Street, Sydney is seen in Figure 2.
Potter & Birks Ltd was a wholesale pharmaceutical supplier and distributor, probably for Johnson & Johnson products, for their articles were about that company’s products only. The fact that the company was styled as ‘Limited’, denoted it was a public company, listed on the Sydney Stock Exchange. One of Potter & Birks Ltd directors was an Australian, George Frederick Birks, and a G. Fred Birks was a governor of the Sydney Rotary Club in 1927-29. The editorial to the September 1932 issue of the magazine reported the opening of ‘new Johnson & Johnson factory’ in Sydney, and George Birks is noted as one of the directors of ‘Johnson & Johnson Ltd., Sydney’. The Potter & Birks company was totally taken over by Johnson & Johnson, and the latter company still operates extensicely in Australia, based in Sydney.
Robert Wood Johnson was an early ‘convert’ to Sir Joseph Lister’s theory of antisepsis in surgery, having heard him talk on the subject in 1876, and Johnson produced a new type of surgical dressing – ready-made, sterile, wrapped and sealed in individual packages. Johnson and his two brothers, James Wood and Edward Mead Johnson formed a partnership in 1885, and work began in New Brunswick, New Jersey the next year with 14 employees on the fourth floor of a small former wallpaper factory. In 1887 the Company was incorporated as Johnson & Johnson and in 1888 the company published a book Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment, which for many years remained the standard text. The rest is history, for the company developed into an American International Pharmaceutical giant. Pictures of Robert Wood Johnson and of the factory along the Raritan River in 1920 are seen in Figures 3 & 4.
A copy of The Red Cross Manager October 1916 published monthly by Johnson & Johnson shows the same factory entitled “The Factory Behind the Goods” with the following (abbreviated) text: “ Here are the factories and laboratories of J. & J. The world’s largest manufacturer of medicinal plasters and surgical dressings. The location.....is ideal for the production of aseptic goods and for the distribution to all parts of the world. Here cotton fibre is transformed into surgical dressings, over a million square yards of medicinal plasters are spread annually, many thousands of first aid to the injured cases are assembled and the Red Cross antiseptics and disinfectants are produced. The House of Johnson is a house of good service. Every druggist in the world has the right to make free use of all its facilities (Figure 5).
An additional Potter & Birks cover with stamps of New South Wales postmarked at Sydney in 1907 is shown in Figure 6.
This paper could not have been written without the benefit of considerable research performed by Kevin Leamon, Reader Services, State Library of New South Wales.