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Johns-Manville Corporation, a merger between H.W. Johns Manufacturing Company and Manville Covering Company, was one of the nation’s largest manufacturing companies of construction products.

As asbestos became a more popular additive to construction materials and other products throughout the 1900s, Johns-Manville Corporation quickly became the largest manufacturer and distributor of asbestos products and raw asbestos in the nation. However, by 1982, they faced an unprecedented number of lawsuits because of the asbestos exposure caused by their products and filed for bankrupcty. The company, now known as Johns Manville, still operates as a construction manufacturer after being bought by Berkshire Hathaway in 2001, but no longer makes asbestos products.


Johns-Manville History of Asbestos Use

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1858 – present
  • Location: Denver, Colorado
  • Production: Construction materials
  • Asbestos Trust: Yes

Before the merger in 1901, both H.W. Johns Manufacturing Company and Manville Covering Company worked on developing asbestos goods. In 1868, Henry Ward Johns received his first patent for an asbestos product after spending years developing roofing materials in his basement. In 1886, Charles Manville ran Manville Covering Company, which produced asbestos pipe insulation, and soon helped to sell Henry Ward Johns’ products.

However, Henry Ward Johns died in 1898, from what was believed to be asbestosis. Despite his passing, his company continued to grow as they sold asbestos textiles, roofing and insulation. Once the two companies merged, the corporation continued to focus on expanding their offering of asbestos materials. From the 1920s to the 1970s, Johns-Manville continued to grow and expand their asbestos product offerings, including materials like asbestos cement, brake linings, sheet packaging and more.

The company was so successful in selling asbestos goods that it was able to go public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1927 after seeing sales of over $45 million and high profits. Across the country, asbestos use was at its peak from the 1930s to the early 1970s. During this time, Johns-Manville grew quickly and produced a range of asbestos materials, including asbestos cement, adhesives, gaskets, corrugated paper and more. During World War I and World War II, the company thrived and continued to grow, as asbestos was heavily used in insulation for ships and airplanes.

Throughout this period, the company also owned and operated asbestos mines to make their own products, as well as distributed raw fibers globally.

However, by the late 1920s, employees of the company began to note asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Although the dangers of asbestos were known and documented by at least the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that a bigger emphasis was placed on the detrimental effects of asbestos exposure, and the company began to experience declining growth and profits. However, Johns-Manville continued to produce and manufacture raw asbestos and their asbestos products for the next several decades.

Johns-Manville Asbestos Products

Johns-Manville has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading manufacturers and distributors of both raw asbestos and asbestos-containing goods. For decades, the company focused on a wide array of asbestos materials, largely within the construction industry. They offered everything from adhesive and sealers to cements and block insulation.

Johns-Manville Products Containing Asbestos
Expand List of Products Containing Asbestos
Product Name Start Year End Year
Johns Manville 301 Cement
Johns Manville 319 Semi-Refractory Cement 1925 1969
Johns Manville 352 Insulating Cement 1922 1973
Johns Manville 373 AAA Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 566 Commercial Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 702 Commercial Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 733 Commercial Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 787 Comnercial Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 788 AAA Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 7M-13 Raw Asbestos Fibers
Johns Manville 85% Magnesia Block Insulation 1902 1970
Johns Manville 85% Magnesia Cement 1902 1970
Johns Manville 85% Magnesia Pipe Covering 1902 1970
Johns Manville 857 AAA Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville 869 AAA Grade Rope 1982
Johns Manville Asbestocel 1902 1975
Johns Manville Asbestocel Corrugated Paper 1902 1931
Johns Manville Asbestocel Paper 1902 1931
Johns Manville Asbestogard Adhesive
Johns Manville Asbestos 85% Magnesia Locomotive Lagging
Johns Manville Asbestos Canvas
Johns Manville Asbestos Caulking Putty
Johns Manville Asbestos Cloth
Johns Manville Asbestos Fire Felt Locomotive Lagging 1900 1906
Johns Manville Asbestos Gasketing
Johns Manville Asbestos Metallic Brake Blocks 1972
Johns Manville Asbestos Paper 1920 1980
Johns Manville Asbestos Roofing Felt
Johns Manville Asbestos Sponge Felt 1961
Johns Manville Asbestos Wick Packing 1983
Johns Manville Barge Roofing
Johns Manville Block Insulation 1930 1973
Johns Manville Blue Chip Felts Roofing Felt 1907 1979
Johns Manville Body Sealer 1954 1975
Johns Manville Built-Up Roofing
Johns Manville Cable Fireproofing
Johns Manville Cedargrain Asbestos-Cement Shingle 1907 1976
Johns Manville Chemtite Epoxy Joint Cement
Johns Manville Cloth (Coated) 1960 1983
Johns Manville Colorblende Asbestos Shingles 1907 1976
Johns Manville Commerical Grade Paper 1929 1980
Johns Manville Custom Four Star Brake Linings 1972
Johns Manville Deepgrain Asbestos-Cement Shingles 1907 1976
Johns Manville Doublex Asbestos Paper 1936 1980
Johns Manville Durobestos Asbestos-Cement Shingles 1907 1976
Johns Manville Duxseal 1934 1982
Johns Manville Ebony Electric Boards
Johns Manville Fibroid Asbestos Paper 1911 1980
Johns Manville Fibrous Adhesive Cement 1981
Johns Manville Finishing Cement
Johns Manville Fire Felt 1900 1975
Johns Manville Fire-Glass Seal-0-Matic Roofing Shingles 1907 1979
Johns Manville Fire-King Seal-0-Matic Roofing Shingles 1907 1979
Johns Manville Flexboard 1927 1983
Johns Manville Furnace Cement 1924 1973
Johns Manville Gaskets
Johns Manville HDM Clutch Facings 1972
Johns Manville High Friction Level Brake Block 1972
Johns Manville Industrial Vent Caulking
Johns Manville Insulating Cement 1930 1973
Johns Manville Insulkote ET 1929 1982
Johns Manville Insulkote SG 1929 1982
Johns Manville Insulkote SG 1929 1982
Johns Manville Marinite Board 1906 1975
Johns Manville Medium Friction Level Brake Blocks 1972
Johns Manville Millboard 1910 1990
Johns Manville Packing
Johns Manville Pipe Covering 1902 1970
Johns Manville Pipecovering
Johns Manville Roofing Products
Johns Manville Rope Packing
Johns Manville Spiral Wound Clutch Facings 1972
Johns Manville Standard Asbestos Shingles
Johns Manville Superex 1900 Sheet/Block 1922 1973
Johns Manville Superex Pipe Covering 1930 1971
Johns Manville Swab Clutch Facings 1972
Johns Manville Thermo-Pac Asbestos Rope
Johns Manville Thermobestos Block Insulation 1950 1974
Johns Manville Thermobestos Cement 1950 1974
Johns Manville Thermobestos Pipe Covering 1950 1974
Johns Manville Trailiners Brake Blocks 1972
Johns Manville Transite Pipe 1906 1975
Johns Manville Transite Roofing 1906 1975
Johns Manville Transite Sheets 1906 1975
Johns Manville Transite Siding 1906 1975
Johns Manville WK Brake Linings 1972

Johns-Manville and Occupational Exposure

Because of the widespread use of Johns-Manville products across many industries, as well as the corporation operating numerous industrial plants and mines, thousands of workers across the country faced the risk of exposure to asbestos.

At its peak asbestos use, reports estimate the company had at least 3,500 employees. Workers for other companies and in many industries also faced exposure because Johns-Manville products were used in countless buildings, homes, schools, ships and more.

Occupations Affected by Johns-Manville Asbestos Use

Asbestos Litigation Against Johns-Manville Corporation

Reports show as early as 1929, employees of the company began to complain about lung diseases and disability as a result of asbestos exposure on the job. Initially, Johns-Manville allegedly handled these claims in private and settled in secrecy. However, the number of asbestos claims grew very quickly.

Sources at the time stated that Johns-Manville tried to discredit claims by reasoning that employees of the company were also negligent because they knew or should have been aware of the dangers of asbestos. The corporation further argued that until 1964, the company wasn’t legally required to have warning labels about asbestos on their products.

Despite such efforts, new mesothelioma and asbestos lawsuits continued to rise, reaching 159 in 1976 and jumping to 792 within two years. By 1979, the company was a defendant or co-defendant in upwards of 1,500 lawsuits.

Clarence Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Company, et al.

This 1973 case is considered a landmark ruling for asbestos litigation. Johns-Manville and other defendants were found to be negligent in this case against an industrial worker who developed asbestosis and mesothelioma. They lost upon appeal and had to pay a verdict of nearly $60,000.

One of the most notable claims filed against Johns-Manville reached a decision in 1985. James Cavett, a boilermaker, developed lung cancer after beginning work in the industry in 1939. Cavett explained that he had close proximity with insulators. He described his working conditions as if someone had dumped a barrel of flour on him because of all the asbestos dust created. It was noted that Johns-Manville supplied upwards of 90% of the insulation materials on these jobsites.

As a result of his prolonged exposure, Cavett developed asbestos lung cancer and his health quickly declined. The jury awarded Cavett and his wife Mary $800,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages. The verdict was upheld upon appeal, citing the company’s negligence in exposing employees and clear knowledge of the dangers of asbestos.

Johns-Manville Asbestos Trust Fund

The current payment percentage for successful claims is 5.1%.

As the number of lawsuits against Johns-Manville continued to rise and the company’s profits declined, the company had to declare bankruptcy and restructure. Johns-Manville Corporation officially filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 1982. At this point, the company faced over 9,000 lawsuits, with juries consistently awarding plaintiffs large verdicts with punitive damages.

The company’s asbestos trust fund was not confirmed until four years later. The bankruptcy court confirmed their reorganization plan and established the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust to pay personal injury claims and the Manville Property Damage Settlement Trust to pay claims for property damage from asbestos removal. The personal injury trust was initially funded with $2.5 billion, and the property damage trust was funded with $125 million.

The trust first became operational in 1988. Within that first year, those maintaining the trust noted it had settled over 12,600 claims for nearly $500 million and had paid out over $50 million to 1,200 claimants. By 1992, there were more than 190,000 claims against the trust.

With the rising number of claims, it quickly became clear that the trust was underfunded, and payments stopped twice. Payout percentages have been lowered accordingly, and the trust has been able to continue offering asbestos victims an opportunity to seek compensation from the company’s wrongdoings. The current payout percentage is 5.1%, but claimants’ actual compensation amount will vary according to a number of factors, including age, exposure history, type of asbestos disease and their firm’s settlement history.

As of 2019, there are over 940,000 active claims pending against the trust.

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