Entrepreneur, businessman. 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 Coat.
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: 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 1972 at age 75. He had three children and seven grandchildren.