Robert Underwood Johnson

Robert Underwood Johnson (January 12, 1853 October 14, 1937) was a U.S. writer and diplomat. His wife was Katharine Johnson.


A native of Washington, D.C., Johnson joined the staff of The Century Magazine in 1873. He became the magazine's associate editor in 1881, and in 1909, on the death of Richard Watson Gilder, succeeded to the editorial chair, which he occupied until May 1913. Johnson was also a longtime writer and editor for Scribner's Monthly.

Using the influence of The Century Magazine, Johnson, in conjunction with famed naturalist John Muir, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Yosemite National Park in the California in 1890. In 1889, Johnson also encouraged Muir to "start an association" to help protect the Sierra Nevada, inspiring the formation of the Sierra Club in 1892.[1]

He married Katharine McMahon. They had a son, Owen McMahon Johnson (1878 - 1952), who became an American writer in his own right. In the 1890s, Johnson and his wife Katharine became very close friends with the inventor Nikola Tesla.

Johnson became noted early for his work on international copyright. As secretary of the American Copyright League, he helped get the Law of 1891 passed, for which he was decorated by the French and Italian governments. He had a hand in many important publishing undertakings, and it was on his persuasion that Ulysses S. Grant wrote his Memoirs. He became permanent secretary of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was a driving force for the effort to acquire and preserve as a museum the rooms in Rome where the poet John Keats and his friend Joseph Severn spent Keats's final months in 1821.

In 1916 he acted as pallbearer for the funeral of Alexander Wilson Drake. In 1917 he organized and was chairman of the American Poets' Ambulance in Italy. This organization presented 112 ambulances to the Italian army in four months. In 1918–19 he was president of the New York Committee of the Italian War Relief Fund of America. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy from April 1920 to July 1921, and represented the United States as observer at the San Remo conference of the Supreme Council of the League. He was decorated by the Italian government in recognition of his work in behalf of good relations between Italy and the United States.



  1. Cohen, Michael P. (1988). The History of the Sierra Club: 1892–1970. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-87156-732-6.

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