Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quick Fix

Imagine a cut finger, a burn, scratch or skinned knee without the quick fix of a Band-Aid. Imagine the care of these minor injuries not with modern day sterile procedures, but with instead sawdust bandages and an assortment of other unsterile tools and remedies used in American hospitals during the nineteenth-century. Keen on the ideas of British surgeon Sir Joseph Lister, Brooklyn pharmacist Robert Johnson convinced his two brothers James and Edward to join him in an attempt to develop a dry, prepackaged and antiseptic dressing, one that followed Lister’s theories on cleanliness and sanitation. Sometime in the 1880s the brothers formed their company, Johnson & Johnson.

They first produced a large dry cotton and gauze dressing that came sealed in a germ-resistant package. In this form they could be shipped to hospitals and military battlefields with sterility guaranteed. The Johnson brothers did well in health care, and in 1893 introduced Johnson’s Baby Powder. In 1920, an employee at Johnson & Johnson named Earle Dickson came up with a prototype Band-Aid in researching the idea of a bandage to help his accident-prone bride who frequently cut a finger or burned herself in the kitchen. Dickson’s goal was to devise a bandage that could be easily applied, would stay in place and retain its sterility. His first attempt was to place a small wad of the company’s sterile cotton and gauze in the center of an adhesive strip. Next, he devised a way to produce them in quantity, using a crinoline fabric to temporarily cover the bandage’s sticky areas. With a cut finger of his own, James Johnson watched Dickson strip off the two crinoline pieces and affix the bandage to his finger. He knew immediately that the company had a new product.

Dickson had a long career at Johnson & Johnson, in time becoming a Vice President before retiring in 1957.

The first Band-Aid bandages were handmade and not too popular, but in 1924, the company began marketing machine produced sterilized Band-Aids. In World War II, millions were shipped overseas while a large number were shipped to hospitals. The original cost of Band-Aids was two cents for a package of fifteen. In 1951, the first decorative Band-Aids were introduced with decorative themes like smiley faces, Barbie, Batman, Superman and Spider Man. They continue to be a commercial success today, but the designs now include Louis Vuitton, bacon, plaid, Hello Kitty and neon, though these later examples are put out by companies other than Johnson & Johnson.


  1. Interesting research on the band-aid.

  2. I would venture to say that most households have a box of band-aids stored somewhere--ready for the cut, burn, or the unsightly unknown contagion. Another example of something really so simple and having such universal use they fade from thought until needed.


About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America