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"Alright, I've been thinking. When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade! Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don't want your damn lemons; what am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's gonna burn your house down... with the lemons! I'm gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!"
―Cave Johnson[src]

Cave Johnson is the posthumous overarching antagonist of the Portal series, but however, in Aperture Desk Job, he's the major tragic anti-villain begging to die in peace. He was the founder of the applied sciences company, Aperture Science, and was its CEO until he died as a result of "moon-rock poisoning" (likely a form of Silicosis, contracted from breathing fine mineral dusts high in silica) in the late 1980s.[2]

As one of his last requests, his right-hand and secretary Caroline became his successor.


Early career[]

Cave's father was a farming professor at the institute of farming although he never farmed a day in his life.[6] In his youth, Cave Johnson became a successful business entrepreneur. Having his father's theories as the backbone, in 1943 he founded Aperture Fixtures, a shower curtain developer and manufacturer. Much of Johnson's early success came from Aperture Fixtures, and with the company developing high-tech shower curtains for most branches of the United States military as well as the public,[2] Johnson soon became a billionaire. Making use of his new wealth, in 1944 Johnson purchased a huge salt mine in Upper Michigan, whose tunnels extended over four kilometers below the surface. The main Aperture Fixtures facility was constructed within the underground caverns.

Portal2 2011-04-25 22-57-59-92

Johnson's early achievements on display in the lobby of Aperture Science.

In 1947 Johnson renamed the company "Aperture Science" and began to focus on experimental physics as a new direction for the company. Although Johnson was well known for his unorthodox approach to science, Aperture Science received an award for Best New Science Company in 1947.

By the 1950s, Aperture Science was prospering. Within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, Johnson took an active role in the company's testing of products, making voice announcements and pre-recorded messages to address Test Subjects, that consisted of specially selected astronauts, Olympian athletes, and war heroes. Johnson was aided by his assistant Caroline during this time, who remained loyal to him for decades to come. By this time, Aperture was in the process of developing the Quantum Tunneling Device, and various prototypes were utilized in the many test chambers rapidly constructed in Test Shaft 09 and beyond.[7]

Financial troubles[]

By the 1960s, Aperture's financial boom period had passed, and with countless products stuck in the testing phase, as well as many being pulled from shelves for violating health and safety regulations, Aperture was beginning to struggle. In 1961, Johnson ordered the lower areas of Test Shaft 09 to be sealed off to hide the highly unethical experiments Aperture had been conducting. In 1968, Aperture Science was involved in U.S. Senate hearings regarding astronauts going missing after their participation in testing.[7]

ASCDT cave

Cave Johnson in the 1970s.

Later in 1968, Aperture was declared bankrupt. As a result, the company could no longer afford to hire astronauts and soldiers for testing, and instead resorted to collecting homeless people from the street. These 'subjects' were offered $60 for their services, and an additional $60 if the 'subjects' would allow themselves to be disassembled and then reassembled in the name of science. Johnson was quite bitter about Aperture's bankruptcy, and did not attempt to hide his dislike for the homeless people he was forced to hire. Johnson blamed Black Mesa for Aperture's financial troubles, claiming that the rival company was stealing their ideas, but Johnson could not come up with the support he needed for these accusations and Black Mesa continued to flourish as Aperture declined.[7]

By October 1976, Johnson had Aperture branch out in its selection of "low risk" test subjects to include orphans, psychiatric patients, and the elderly.[8]

Decline of health and death[]

By the 1980s, Aperture remained in financial turmoil. Desperate for a successful new product, in 1981 Johnson purchased approximately seventy million dollars-worth of Moon rocks for use in further mobility gel development, despite not having nearly enough money to cover the costs (he was told he could barely afford to buy $7 worth of moon rocks, let alone $70 million). Upon discovering that moon dust serves as a portal conductor, Johnson took an active role in its implementation into Conversion Gel. However, during the development of the Conversion Gel, Johnson contracted a severe illness as a result of his prolonged exposure to the moon dust, which slowly but severely damaged his lungs and caused both of his kidneys to fail.[9]

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A mandatory employee testing area in the 1980s, with a portrait of an older, severely ill Cave Johnson on the wall.

In response to Aperture's continued struggle for test subjects amidst financial turmoil, Johnson made testing mandatory for all employees. He stated that this dramatically raised the quality of test subjects, but dramatically reduced employee retention. As such, he finally moved to phase out human testing.[9]

During this time, Johnson continued to make pre-recorded messages over the intercom system, however few were on the subject of testing, and instead addressed employees about the future of the company, with also many having Johnson raging over his imminent demise. Desperate to cheat death, in 1982 Johnson ordered his engineers and technicians to begin research and development on a computer system (AI) that could store his consciousness. Should the system be completed after his death, Johnson ordered that his ever loyal assistant Caroline succeed him as CEO of Aperture.[10] Johnson died before the system was finished, and eventually Caroline was uploaded into the system and transformed into GLaDOS.[11][12]


Overlay scrawlings006a

Graffiti and pasted photos left by Rattmann featuring Cave Johnson's username and password.


In Portal, Johnson is only referred to once in the game, in a graffiti by Doug Rattmann found in Test Chamber 12, simply as "cjohnson" (followed by "tier3") scribbled on a wall, which appeared to be an administrator login and password for ApertureScience.com. Above can be found three portraits of men in suits with their heads masked by a Weighted Companion Cube. The bottom-left one has the words "Our Founder" under it and the letters "R.I.P." right beside; this is a portrait of Cave Johnson.

Portal 2[]

In one of the memos revealed during the Portal ARG, Johnson's recording says that he is dead now, and that he is able to write memos from the Black Mesa Facility.

In Portal 2, Johnson appears to be deceased, with only his automated pre-recorded voice messages playing to guide Chell through the disused lower levels of the facility. The initial messages are intended for "astronauts, war heroes, and Olympians", indicating a time of prosperity for the company where the greatest members of society were used during testing. The messages show a steady decline in Johnson's sanity, and consequently the prosperity of his company. His 1970s era recordings state that Aperture was a major participant in the 1968 Senate hearings relating to some matter involving missing astronauts, and that Aperture has gone bankrupt. Johnson blames Aperture's bankruptcy on Black Mesa, claiming that they have stolen ideas that Aperture has invented. Aperture's economic troubles also show in announcements directed at test subjects, as the subjects are normally hobos who were picked off the street and offered up to $120 for testing ($60 for testing, $60 more if they allowed Aperture to disassemble and then reassemble them). In the 1980s recordings, Cave states that employees are required to test.

At one point, he states he had contracted a severe illness from contact with ground Moon rocks (the primary component of Conversion Gel). He also made it mandatory for all employees to undergo testing in the chambers. He ordered that technology be developed to allow him to be put into a computer, but it's apparent the tech wasn't finished before he died. He also ordered that, should this occur, Caroline was to be put in charge of Aperture, forcibly if necessary. This lead to the creation of GLaDOS, the antagonist of Portal, which led to GLaDOS's confusion of who Caroline was.

In the Portal 2 DLC, Perpetual Testing Initiative, Cave Johnson makes a number of appearances over the intercom at the start of each test. In the DLC Cave is from another Earth in the Multiverse, Earth Prime. Caroline is not present on Earth Prime (or apparently any alternate Earth) and Cave instead has an assistant named Greg, who was responsible for the Multiverse theory. There are also multiple versions of Cave from different Earths, one of which was successfully transferred to a computer before his demise, although after hearing from this "Cave of pure intellect", Cave Prime decides to cancel the GLaDOS development program on Earth Prime. There is no known number of how many Alternate Caves there are in the Multiverse, but we do know that there is one Cave Prime, and one Dark Cave, who tries to take the place of Cave Prime, so he can take the Moneyverse, a universe made entirely of money. This was suggested by Greg, and was only a theory, and at the end of the DLC Dark Cave's test subject finds two Moneyverse's and Cave Prime and Dark Cave take one each. The DLC ends with you being brought back to Earth Prime thanks to Greg, and the testing continues.

Aperture Desk Job[]

In an alternate universe, Aperture scientists were able to create a robot body for Johnson before his passing. However, the body's head was too small to fit his brain, so they kept building it bigger and bigger until he became a giant head with the robot body crushed underneath. Johnson proceeded to kill some of the scientists and threatened to kill the rest if they came back before locking himself in his office at the top of Aperture Science. In the events of the game, Grady and the player arrange a meeting (break into his office) to show off their new invention (a toilet turret) and discover the giant head, who asks that they kill him to end his suffering. They oblige, first by using the turret to try to destroy it, before finally shutting off its power source. Unfortunately, the facility's backup power turns him back on immediately, prompting him to fire Grady and the player. Before this can be made official, however, the damage to the room causes Johnson's head to crash through the floor, plummeting to the bottom of the facility. Now stuck with the discarded remains of several toilet turrets, Johnson sings a short operatic requiem with them.

Personality and skills[]

Cave Johnson was an eccentric but highly motivated man. He is said to have learned to "trust his gut," and to think in terms of "the big picture" without regard for details. He apparently had a poor personal understanding of science, but he understood people. He was very dismissive whenever someone tried to tell him something that objected to his views, often ignoring it and firing the person on the spot for it.

Johnson was extroverted, enthusiastic, and opinionated. He seems to have been very energetic, perhaps even impulsive, and considered his life an adventure he was happy to be on. He was born a salesman, a leader. People trusted him, even when his plans were clearly dangerous. He used his warm, homespun delivery to put people at ease. However, he appeared to be spoiled and refused to oblige to others' instructions. He was not particularly ethical, and he did not seem to accept the responsibility that came with his power: Many of his company's initiatives were dangerous and ill-conceived, but he was evidently unconcerned or oblivious to their ramifications.[13]

The results of the Aperture Science Collaborative Disposition Test tell that Johnson does not see crises - only challenging opportunities ("challengitunities") he chooses to scale like mountains, that he is a can-do, shoot-from-the-hip, silver-tongued self-starter, and a good match for any cooperative test partner, providing they shut up and listen.

Behind the scenes[]


An excerpt of Aperture Science and Johnson's history revealed through the NOTES command on ApertureScience.com.

  • By signing into ApertureScience.com with the username "CJOHNSON" and the password "TIER3" (referring to the three tiered program), one could enter Cave Johnson's account. These login and password can be found in Rattmann scribblings spread around the Enrichment Center's maintenance area seen during Portal, with the words "trust me" right to it. After logging in as Cave Johnson, "GLaDOS v1.07a (c) 1982 Aperture Science, Inc." appeared. Then one could type either APPLY to start the Enrichment Center Test Subject Application Process, or NOTES, which gave information about Aperture Science and Johnson's history, in the form of a short timeline.[2] When Valve retconned Aperture and Cave's story, they took the command line offline.
  • The "Our Founder" portrait mentioned above is based on a painted portrait of Sam Rayburn.
  • Portal casting

    The casting sheet.

    A casting call conducted by Shana Landsburg for Portal 2 was posted on the subscribers-only industry website Breakdown Express on June 8, 2008, with a concept art portrait of Cave Johnson. That call sheet, seeking a voice-over artist to take on the role of Johnson, an "eccentric dead billionaire", with work tentatively to start at the end of July 2008, was the first hint that Johnson would appear in Portal 2. The call sheet revealed many bits of Johnson's fate and personality, that he speaks with a slight Southern/Western accent ("natural, not too broad"), and how his role evolves as the game progresses.[13]
  • Cave Johnson's appearance in the portrait given with the June 2008 casting call was drastically changed for the Aperture Science Collaborative Disposition Test in April 2011 to a slightly younger appearance, showing a Johnson with sideburns and brighter hair; the shirt and tie were also replaced by a turtleneck sweater.
  • 09394469

    The three pillars memo.

    In the file dump retrieved at the BBS number (425) 822-5251 revealed during the Portal ARG, several memos seemingly written by Cave Johnson can be found. In one, he describes the three pillars on which Aperture Science is built. In another, he addresses Test Subjects who raised their concerns about the dangers of the research conducted by Aperture Science. Another consists of a rant about casualty rates, firing employees, and him practicing beekeeping in his office. In another, reusing text from the casting call sheet revealed in 2008, he apparently announces his death, and being able to write memos from beyond the grave. One is apparently the answer to a confidential letter Johnson sent, titled "Human Enrichment & Testing Initiative, Resource Acquisitions". It apparently describes the four types of Test Subjects and their behavior, referring to them in a less than human way.[8]
  • An e-mail from Johnson can be seen on the Apple games page for Portal, informing members of the executive team of some information that should not be revealed to any Test Subjects, as it would "impair the scientific value of what we're doing here at Aperture Science."[14] The information is revealed below the e-mail, and it consists of common console commands. In the e-mail, Johnson states that he is "busy cheating death".
  • Cave Johnson narrated the four weekly videos that lead up to Portal 2's release: Panels, Bot Trust, Turrets, and Boots, presented as informational videos intended for customers of Aperture products.
  • On ApertureScience.com, "1978" and "1979" were originally given as the date for Johnson's mercury poisoning and kidney failure, respectively. These dates were later retconned to 1974 and 1976, as seen in the updated Aperture Science timeline on Game Informer. This was later replaced by the story as featured in Portal 2.
  • " Johnson" is quite similar to "Johanson", the name of the original Borealis captain. Furthermore, "Arbeit Laboratories" can be seen on some crates inside the ship.[15] The retail Borealis belonging to Aperture Science, it is possible those names were recycled.
  • Diorama card001

    The cardboard figure.

    A case of the diorama exhibit sequence cut from Portal 2 was to contain a cardboard figure of Cave Johnson posing with a bearded hobo, someone in a straitjacket (identical to the Screamer cut from Left 4 Dead), and a little girl with the Aperture logo on her dress, with a blue Aperture logo behind.[16] The texture for the cardboard figure is present in the Portal 2 files, under the name "diorama_card001.vtf".
  • The people with Cave Johnson on the cardboard diorama could be the earlier test subjects which included child orphans, the homeless and the psychiatry patients.
  • A scene cut from Portal 2 would have seen Chell and PotatOS encountering a Weighted Storage Cube containing Johnson's consciousness. Having been alive for centuries by this point, the cube begs them to kill him, which they oblige.[17] The subtitles for this scene are still in the Portal 2 Source files, suggesting it may have been recorded, though the actual voice recordings have never emerged. The overall concept, and even some lines originally written for this scene, were reused in Aperture Desk Job.


  • Cave Johnson's physical appearance is based on that of Portal 2 lead animator, Bill Fletcher.[18]
  • Cave Johnson narrates the "Extras" videos in Portal 2, which could mean that he survived; this is unlikely, however.
  • According to a voice line in Lego Dimensions, Cave Johnson likes three-cheese burritos and coleslaw.
  • Cave Johnson is referenced in Poker Night 2 in a conversation between Brock Samson and GLaDOS. Brock asks about Johnson, though GLaDOS says she cannot find his name in her data banks. According to Samson, Johnson was good friends with Dr. Venture and used to hang around with the original Team Venture until he disappeared in the 80s. GLaDOS states that she has "a Cave Johnson-shaped hole" in her database, as all instances of Cave Johnson have been redacted. This makes her sad.
    • This conversation can only be viewed if the full Portal skin (Portal-themed cards, chips, and table felt) is used.

Test courses and achievements[]


List of appearances[]