Johnson Wax Headquarters

Coordinates: 42°42′49″N 87°47′27″W / 42.71361°N 87.79083°W / 42.71361; -87.79083

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

United States historic placeAdministration Building and Research Tower, S.C. Johnson CompanyU.S. National Register of Historic PlacesU.S. National Historic Landmark
1969 photo of headquarters building with towerJohnson Wax Headquarters is located in WisconsinJohnson Wax HeadquartersShow map of WisconsinJohnson Wax Headquarters is located in the United StatesJohnson Wax HeadquartersShow map of the United States


Racine, Wisconsin


42°42′49″N 87°47′27″W / 42.71361°N 87.79083°W / 42.71361; -87.79083




Frank Lloyd Wright; Peters, Wesley W.

Architectural style

Streamline Moderne

NRHP reference No.


Significant dates Added to NRHP

December 27, 1974

Designated NHL

January 7, 1976

Johnson Wax Headquarters is the world headquarters and administration building of S. C. Johnson & Son in Racine, Wisconsin. Designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the company\'s president, Herbert F. \"Hib\" Johnson, the building was constructed from 1936 to 1939. Its distinctive \"lily pad\" columns and other innovations revived Wright\'s career at a point when he was losing influence. Also known as the Johnson Wax Administration Building, it and the nearby 14-story Johnson Wax Research Tower (built 1944–1950) were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 as Administration Building and Research Tower, S.C. Johnson and Son.

Great Workroom
Shorter dendriform columns in the carport

In the Great Workroom, the columns expand from 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter at the bottom to \"lily pads\" 18 feet (5.5 m) in diameter at the top; skeptical building inspectors required that a test column be built and loaded with twelve tons of material. After the test column proved capable of supporting the specified load, Wright had the load progressively increased. Only at sixty tons load did any crack appear.

The building was completed in 1939, considerably over-budget. It proved very difficult to properly seal the glass tubing of the clerestories and roof, and leaks occurred. The problem was not solved until the company replaced the top layers of tubes with skylights consisting of angled sheets of fiberglass and specially molded sheets of Plexiglas with painted dark lines to resemble the original joints in a trompe-l\'œil when viewed from the ground.

Wright designed not only the building but its furniture. His chair design originally had only three legs, supposedly to encourage better posture (because one would have to keep both feet on the ground at all times to sit in it). However, the chair proved unstable, tipping very easily. Purportedly, Wright redesigned the chairs after Herbert Johnson asked him to sit in one, and he fell out of it. Johnson Wax has continued to use Wright\'s furniture.

Research Tower, 2016

Despite these problems, Johnson was pleased with the building and later commissioned the Research Tower and a house (known as Wingspread) from Wright.

Research Tower

The Research Tower was added in 1950 to the Administration Building, and provides a vertical counterpoint to its horizontality. It is one of only two existing high-rise buildings by Wright. Cantilevered from a giant stack, the tower\'s floor slabs spread out like tree branches, providing for vertical segmentation of departments. Elevator and stairway channels run up the reinforced concrete core, which Wright called a tap root. This single core was based on an idea that he had proposed in 1929 for the St. Mark\'s Tower, and which he used again in 1952 in the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Freed from peripheral supporting elements, the tower rises from a garden and three fountain pools that surround its base while a court on three sides provides parking for employees.

The Research Tower was taken out of use in 1980 because it no longer met fire safety codes; it only has a single 29-inch wide twisting staircase, and originally had no sprinklers because Wright thought they were ugly. SC Johnson considered proposals to retrofit the tower to meet these codes, including one submitted by apprentices from Taliesin, but all were ultimately rejected out of concern it would mar the appearance of the tower. The company is committed to preserving it as a symbol of its history. In 2013, an extensive 12-month restoration was completed. The tower was relit on December 21, 2013, to mark the winter solstice, and S.C. Johnson & Son announced that it would be opened for public tours for the first time in its history. The research labs shown on the tour have been set up to appear frozen in time, including beakers, scales, centrifuges, archival photographs and letters about the building.


The Johnson Wax buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Administration Building and the Research Tower were chosen by the American Institute of Architects as two of seventeen buildings by the architect to be retained as examples of his contribution to American culture. In addition, in 1974 the Administration Building was awarded a Twenty-Five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects and in 1976, both were designated National Historic Landmarks.


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