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The Black hair care industry lost one of its pioneers last week in Joan Johnson, who co-founded the Johnson Products Company alongside her husband, George Johnson.

Johnson’s husband managed to secure a $250 investment after working a variety of odd jobs, and founded the Johnson Products Company in the city of Chicago in 1954. Their first product, “Ultra Wave,” was a relaxer targeted towards men, leading into the development of a similar product for women called “Ultra Sheen”  promoted for use inside the home instead of salons.


The success of the company led to it becoming the first Black-owned company to be traded on what is now the New York Stock Exchange in 1971. The ‘70s were especially fruitful for the Johnson family,  after securing a position as a chief sponsor of “Soul Train” remaining with the program for decades.

Among the products the Johnson Products Company produced, “Afro-Sheen” became one of its best known. Many of the company’s products  such as Bantu and Soft Touch are still used today in beauty shops and barber shops nationwide.

Ms. Johnson was a trustee of Spelman College; part of her work on behalf of women in business and education. According to the family, the school will establish an annual scholarship in her name.

Her husband George, three sons and one daughter, and a host of grandchildren survive Johnson, along with a number of great-grandchildren and other relatives and loved ones.

She was 89.




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