Howard Johnson

Howard Johnson was a 20th century entrepreneur who opened up a pioneering chain of restaurants and motels.


Born on February 2, 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts, Howard Johnson went on to run a drug store and an ice cream business. He turned his enterprise into a successful franchise of restaurants during the ‘30s that had both sit-down service and fast-food takeout. Having created a pioneering food service format, he later opened up motor lodges. Johnson died on June 20, 1972.

Early Life

Born Howard Deering Johnson on February 2, 1897, in Boston, Massachusetts, Howard Johnson left elementary school to work in his father's cigar business. After his father died, Johnson worked in restaurants to pay off his dad's debts. In 1925, he bought a drugstore soda fountain, opening a second store in 1927 and a third in 1928. In 1935, he created the first modern restaurant franchise, charging a fee to allow operators to use the soda shop's name, food, supplies and logo up and down the East Coast.

Howard Johnson's Restaurant Chain

As post-War America headed out on the open road, and the Interstate highway system made its way across the country, Johnson staked his claim to fame: his self-named roadside restaurants. The signature white colonial-style buildings with the bright orange roofs offered meals and ice cream that catered to families on the move.

In 1952, Howard Johnson's opened its 351st restaurant and became the world's largest food chain. The company went public, added motels to its offerings, and Johnson's son took the helm in 1959. By 1965, there were 770 restaurants and 265 motels.

The explosive growth eventually cost the chain its reputation, however, as standards began to slide. The advent of fast food and the proliferation of competitors also claimed a portion of the company's business.

Howard Johnson died in New York City on June 20, 1972, at age 75. He had three children and seven grandchildren.

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