John Watson was born in Williams, Colusa County, California. In 1913 he received a BS degree in Irrigation Engineering from the University of California after spending three years at Berkeley and one year at Davis. While at Berkeley he became a member of the honorary agricultural fraternity, Alpha Zeta.
John and his brother, E.C., owned a dairy herd in Dixon from 1912 to 1915. John continued to operate it on his own until 1918.
Starting in 1925 John built up one of the finest dairy herds in the Petaluma area. After a number of years he turned over operation of this herd to his sons. From 1943 to 1951 he devoted his time and energy to the State Board of Agriculture.
John Watson cooperated in the establishment of the artificial breeding organization in Petaluma. He was the principal author of the Milk Stabilization and Marketing Act. Under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman he was advisor to the United States Department of Agriculture.
In 1959 he was appointed president of the State Board of Agriculture and served as a Regent of the University of California. During this time he was also a member of the State Chamber of Commerce.
From 1959 until his death on December 12, 1963, John served the University of California most faithfully, devoting tireless energy to various important committees, including the Committee on Buildings and Grounds and the Committee on Agriculture.