The Johnson Electric Washer Co. was a major manufacturer of electric washing machines on the west coast in the early 1900s. The company held several important patents related to their designs. Their factory building at 40th and Adeline still stands.

The company was founded in 1902 by Chris P. Johnson (the P. was added to sound more business-like.) Johnson had little formal education, only being schooled through 3rd or 4th grade. He developed the idea for the washing machine while working at a blacksmith's in Newcastle, CA. The family was in San Francisco looking for a location for a factory when the 1906 earthquake struck, and Johnson's grandson reports "my mother had clear memories of wandering the streets of SF with my grandfather dragging a large trunk with all their belongings. They had to leave and head back home [to Newcastle]." They returned to San Francisco a few years later.

A 1915 issue of Electrical Review states:

"The Johnson new improved electric washer is generally recognized as one of the most satisfactory washing machines on the market. In its design many small, but important labor-saving details have been incorporated and the efforts of the manufacturer have all been concentrated on the production of a simple, efficient machine that will do the family washing in the shortest possible time with the least expenditure of the housewife's energy." 2

Johnson Electric Washer Co. building, photo CC SA-BY from Our Oakland

The Oakland factory at 40th and Adeline was built to Johnson's specifications in 1919 and operations moved there in 1920. The building covers approximately 33,000 square feet, and had a state-of-the-art machine shop. While ads and articles list the factory and offices as being in Oakland, in fact part of the building is in Emeryville.

1950 Sanborn excerpt

The company including the factory was sold to Frank Schulyer in 1922. He consolidated his manufacturing in Berkeley into the Oakland factory. The Apex company of Ohio wanted western manufacturing, parts and distribution, and purchased the company in 1929. 3 The washers were known by "Johnson-Apex", then "Apex-Johnson", and finally by 1933, "Apex". 1

The 1950 Sanborn shows the building as National Upholstering Company. As recently as 2013, the National sign was still on the building. c.2022 the building includes a storage business and Hometown Heroes Sports Bar and Eatery.

Oakland connections

  • Chris Johnson built a home on Longridge Rd. in the early 1920s when the Lakeshore area was first being developed
  • his daughter lived in it from 1953 to 1966
  • his grandson was born in Oakland in 1937 and lived on Walker Avenue, and attended Lakeview Grammar School. He remembers attending many Saturday matinees at the Grand Lake Theater.
  • c.1931 there was an Apex - Johnson Washer Store at 3443 San Pablo Ave. in the California Hotel building 4

Brochures and ads

1924 directory listing

Patent drawings

Links and References

  1. Port of Oakland Compass magazine, June 1933
  2. Electrical Review, volume 66
  3. Washer Co. Acquired by Apex Mfg. Co. Oakland Tribune October 27, 1929
  4. classified ad Oakland Tribune December 4, 1931