Mr. Kimberly was born in Troy, New York, in 1838 and moved with his family to Neenah, Wisconsin, when he was nine years old. Before moving west, he had obtained the rudiments of an education in the schools of Troy, and his education was completed in the pioneer schools of Neenah and at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Always ambitious to begin a business, he quit school to turn his attention to commercial pursuits. He was identified with the dry goods trade until 1870, and for several years prior to that, he had interests in the flour and lumber trades.
In 1872, Mr. Kimberly and Havilah Babcock, who were partners in a general store, formed a partnership with C.B. Clark, a junior partner in a hardware store, and Franklyn C. Shattuck, a traveling salesman. Each man contributed $7,500 to capitalize Kimberly-Clark & Company and built the Globe Mill, the first newsprint mill in Wisconsin. In the first 25 years of its existence, the company expanded from one mill with a two ton-per-day capacity to 14 mills and a daily capacity of 150 tons.
During World War I, the company’s absorbent Cellucotton (made with the cellulose from wood pulp fibers, which is more absorbent) was used extensively overseas and in American hospitals by the Red Cross and the U.S. Army as a substitute for cotton. The company found greatly expanded usage for the product after the war. Its best known products are Kotex, Kleenex, and Huggies.
Mr. Kimberly was still president of the company in 1928 when he died in his ninetieth year. He had long outlived his partners. An obituary described him as “a man of national reputation as a businessman; keen in his commercial perceptions, broad in his grasp of the problems of humanity — perhaps these were among the prominent traits in the fine and strong character of J. A. Kimberly, who after a long and useful life passed to his reward last Saturday morning.”
Another tribute, written in The American Way, said of Mr. Kimberly, “He is an example of the free enterprise system at work. In his lifetime the fruits of his labors made him a man of wealth, but he did not lose touch with his fellowmen with whom he lived and worked.”
Mr. Kimberly and his wife, Helen Cheney Kimberly, had seven children. A son, James Cheney Kimberly, served as an executive officer of Kimberly-Clark Corporation for many years.