CHICAGO (AP) _ George E. Johnson, founder of Johnson Products Co., has resigned as chairman of the beauty products concern and is turning over the company's reins to his ex-wife as part of a divorce settlement.

Joan B. Johnson now owns or controls 61 percent of the common stock in the company, which is one of the nation's biggest black-owned businesses. She formerly served as company treasurer, Johnson officials said Monday.

Johnson, 62, founded the company in 1954 in Chicago and it became the first black-owned company traded on the American Stock Exchange in 1971. Johnson Products makes and markets hair-care and cosmetics under such brand names as Gentle-Treatment, Ultra Sheen and Classy Curl.

In 1987, Johnson reported sales of $33.9 million, but in 1988 reported a loss of $3.7 million on $29.1 million in sales.

Johnson Products ranked 17th on Black Enterprise magazine's list of the nation's 100 largest black-owned companies for the year ended Dec. 31, 1988 and was the only publicly-held company listed.

Before his divorce, Johnson was the company's principal stockholder. A statement issued by the company said he would continue his affiliation with Johnson Products as a consultant.

The founder's eldest son, company president Eric G. Johnson, was elected Monday as chief executive officer.

Eric Johnson said he was pleased the company would continue to be controlled by the family and said he looked forward to completion of an internal reorganization begun 18 months ago.