Johns-Manville had a reputation as an excellent company that cared about its employees, offering good wages and working conditions, and other benefits - including annual physicals and chest x-rays.
The problem was with the asbestos fibers which would cover workers and their clothing, and which would sometimes fall like snow in Manville. Once breathed into the lungs, the asbestos remained there permanently- causing lung scarring and cancer.
As recounted in Jon Blackwell's excellent book Notorious New Jersey, Johns-Manville's director of Health rationalized keeping employees in the dark about their grave condition:
"As long as the man is not disabled it is felt that he should not be told of his condition so that he can live and work in peace and the Company can benefit from his many years of experience."
When the lawsuits began in the 1960s, company directors tried to argue that their knowledge of the dangers of asbestos was recent. Internal documents and correspondence proved otherwise.
When the president of the company was asked why he would let his employees "work until they dropped dead" rather than inform them of their condition, his reply was, "We save a lot of money that way".