Celebrating 200 years of inspiring science

1817-1899
Pioneering Mettalurgy

Pioneering Metallurgy

Building a Reputation for Quality and Integrity

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In 1817, Percival Norton Johnson set up his gold assaying business in London with just £150 of capital – that's the equivalent of £15,000 today.

From these humble beginnings, the business grew rapidly. Within just a few years the company had become official assayers to the Bank of England, and was responsible for the manufacturing of the first ever standard metre and kilogramme in a platinum iridium alloy. These standards are still in use today.

Did You Know? Eros

Did You Know?

In the same year that Johnson first set up in business, Humphry Davy showed that a platinum wire acted as a catalyst for the combination of oxygen and hydrogen. The platinum for the experiment was almost certainly provided by Johnson. Towards the end of the 19th Century the company was also the likely source for the aluminium used to cast the sculpture popularly known as Eros in Piccadilly Circus!

The Bank of England Comes Calling

The Bank of England Comes Calling

In 1852 JM was appointed assayers to the Bank of England – the very highest of accolades. Johnson was asked to make plates for the Trial of the Pyx, the annual event that tests the weight and fineness of gold and silver coins issued by The Royal Mint. In just 35 years, the company had found its place at the heart of the establishment.

Did You Know? Light

Did You Know?

On 11th April 1891 the firm became a limited company, Johnson, Matthey & Company, Limited. In the same year, company accounts show an expenditure of over £84 on electric light. JM was one of the very first London businesses to use electricity.

1900-1969
Expansion into New Areas

Expansion into New Areas

Establishing Expertise in Platinum Group Metals

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To build on its successes, the company appointed its first ever Research Scientist in 1918.

Now, Johnson Matthey has 1,450 people working in R&D, that's 12% of our global workforce. During this period the company also expanded into North America and Asia, and began to supply electrocatalysts to the NASA space programme.

Did You Know? War

Did You Know?

During the war, JM lost a number of men to national conscription. The company approached Bedford College to find female scientists to fill the gap. Nora M Denny was the first woman to be employed in a technical role, staying with the company until retirement.

Did You Know? Methanol

Did You Know?

ICI filed a patent for the first low pressure methanol process, a revolutionary technology to make this vital chemical building block. The technology became part of JM's portfolio with its acquisition of ICI's Synetix Catalyst Division in 2002 and is used around the world today.

Helping to Power NASA

Helping to Power NASA

In the early 1960s, JM supplied a range of electrocatalysts for fuel cell systems used in the US space programme. The fuel cells provided electricity and water on board missions carried out by the NASA space programme. Proving that JM's innovative thinking was literally out of this world.

1970-1999
Chemistry and Catalysis

Chemistry and Catalysis

Improving Air Quality and Health

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After the Clean Air Acts of 1956, 1968 and 1970 Johnson Matthey produced the first emission control catalyst.

This enabled car companies to cut exhaust emissions.The company also began the commercial production of platinum based anticancer drugs, marking the start of pharmaceutical applications for Johnson Matthey's science.

The Very First Catalytic Converter

The Very First Catalytic Converter

In 1974, JM's first ever emission control catalyst rolled off the production line in Royston, UK. This technology made a world changing difference. For instance, a test in 1989 pitted a standard Golf GTi against the same car fitted with a JM emission control catalyst. The non-catalyst car produced six times more nitrogen oxide, 11 times more hydrocarbons and 35 times more carbon monoxide. Today, one in three cars is fitted with a JM catalyst.

Life Saving Technology

Life Saving Technology

JM supplied the platinum to aid research by Professor Barnett Rosenberg of Michigan State University, which was instrumental in developing the first ever platinum based anticancer drug, Cisplatin. We also provided a research scientist, Dr Michael Cleare, who helped develop a second generation version of the drug, known as Carboplatin. Carboplatin proceeded rapidly through clinical trials and was first given to patients in 1986, to treat ovarian cancer.

2000-2017
Expansion and Sustainability

Expansion and Sustainability

Continued Investment in Science

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Johnson Matthey broadened its offering across sectors and geographies.

We expanded into China and made several acquisitions to build the business. In a world where environmental concerns are ever more pressing, we also launched Sustainability 2017, setting in stone our commitment to developing sustainable technologies and a sustainable business.

Stronger and More Sustainable

Stronger and More Sustainable

In 2001 the company acquired MacFarlan Smith, a groundbreaking chemicals company that dated back even further than JM. MacFarlan Smith produced the morphine that was used in the first ever hypodermic injection of a human, back in 1854. The knowledge and expertise within the company were a natural fit for JM and further enhanced our contribution to improving human health.

Did You Know? Bitrex

Did You Know?

JM supplies Bitrex; the world's bitterest substance. It is added to household products to prevent children from swallowing their harmful contents. It is so bitter tasting that it would be possible to taste a single teaspoon of Bitrex in the water of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Did You Know? China

Did You Know?

In 2001 JM opened its first manufacturing operation in China. Today, JM has seven facilities in the country and employs approximately 1,000 people.

2017 and Beyond
Creating a Cleaner, Healthier World

Creating a Cleaner, Healthier World

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With a global population of over 7.5 billion, the world faces some unprecedented challenges.

In the years ahead we will help to meet them, driving innovations such as low and zero emission transport, highly efficient use of the planet's natural resources and life changing medications. Our science will help to create a cleaner and healthier world.

Did You Know? 90

Did You Know?

Today, over 90% of our sales come from products and services that are contributing to a cleaner, healthier world.

Here’s to the Next 200 Years

Here's to the Next 200 Years

In 2017 JM is involved in technologies around the world – and even beyond – as well as in science at every scale. From the manipulation of materials at the atomic level through to technologies used in world scale applications, we will continue to be at the forefront of technological breakthroughs, finding ways to make life cleaner, healthier and more efficient.

1817-2017

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Johnson Matthey. Back in 1817 we began as assayers, testing the purity of precious metals, and the business quickly expanded thanks to the vision and determination of our founders.

But the world moved on. And so did we.

Today, our science and research touches some of the most pressing challenges faced by the world as we help to reduce pollution, relieve pain, make the most efficient use of the planet's natural resources and even help to restore hearing.

Our technologies are making the world a cleaner,healthier place and improving people's lives across every continent.

Downloads

JM History Booklet

JM History Booklet

Take a short tour through JM's rich history as we celebrate 200 years of inspiring science.


Infographic

Infographic

See our 200 year journey at a glance


A History of Platinum

A History of Platinum

The history of platinum and its associated metals, covering important discoveries and scientific work on the platinum group metals up to the early twentieth century