North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

January 27, 2011

Stuck on Band-Aids

By Steve Mullenix
North Jefferson News

Jan. 26, 2011 — When you make a boo-boo, what is the instant cure all?   Everyone knows it’s a Band-Aid, but have you ever wondered if they are really effective or just cosmetic?  

First and foremost, a Band-Aid covers the injury. You know the old saying “out of sight, out of mind.” We know that that works well with kids. When you can’t see the blood or scratch, it doesn’t hurt as much.

Band-Aids do serve a function to protect and keep a cut or scrape from getting dirty, which can be beneficial.

Band-Aids have changed a lot over the years from their humble beginning. Today, you can purchase Band-Aids treated with antibiotic cream, and even a liquid Band-Aid formulation.  

Let’s look at the history of the Band-Aid. Back in the 1860s, a British surgeon named Sir Joseph Lister pioneered sanitary operating room procedures. In many hospitals, if the injury or disease didn’t get you, the surgery probably would.  Deaths as a result of the complications of surgery were over 90 percent. Doctors operated with bare hands, in street clothes on sawdust covered floors (it absorbed the blood, and was easy to clean up), and just washed the surgical tools off with water.

Sir Lister was concerned about the germs and gave a talk about it at a medical conference. Only one person seemed to be interested, a Missouri physician named Joseph Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence went back to his office and created an anti-bacterial solutions he called “Listerine” in honor of Lister.

About this time, a pharmacist in Brooklyn, N.Y., named Robert Johnson and his two brothers decided to start a company to sell large dry cotton and gauze dressing. They came up with the name of the company as Johnson & Johnson.  Sound familiar?

They too shared Dr. Lawrence’s concern for germ-free surgical supplies. They developed, packed, and shipped their germ-resistant packages, guaranteeing sterility until opened.

An interesting side note is the next product they developed and marketed was baby powder.  It is also still around today.

Around 1920, an employee of Johnson & Johnson named Earl Dickson developed the Band-Aid for his accident-prone wife, Josephine. Earl attached a small piece of surgical gauze to the center of strips of surgical tape to help his wife. He was tired of bandaging his wife’s fingers with big thick gauze and tape.  

A co-worker encouraged him to pitch it to upper management; however they initially dismissed the idea. Earl was determined, and pitched it again. He demonstrated the ease that one could apply the bandage by himself. This time, management took the idea and ran with it.  

The first original band aid was quite large — over 2 inches wide by 18 inches long, each of which was hand made. Needless to say, the first few years of sales were dismal.  

The sale of Band-Aids was slow until Johnson & Johnson decided to give Boy Scout Troops free Band-Aids as a publicity gimmick. By 1924, Band-Aids were machine made. Sales skyrocketed.  In 1939, they were advertised as being sterile. In 1958, they were made with plastic adhesive (tape) strips.

Johnson & Johnson created and expanded the Band-Aid line to appeal to children by adding popular characters to the strips, like Superman, Batman, and today, Hello Kitty and Dora the Explorer.  

The long running jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid” was written by Barry Manilow.

Band-Aids are as much a part of Americana as apple pie, baseball and other brand name products like Kleenex and Oscar Mayer. In 1942, Band-Aids were a part of the war effort, as hundreds of thousands were sent overseas.

Band-Aids have been included on NASA missions, even the one to the moon.  Band-Aids are available in a multitude of sizes, colors, shapes and designs. You can rest assured for that next boo-boo, there will be a Band-Aid of the right size, and it will make the hurt go away.

So what happened to Earl? Earl was made a vice president and later gained a seat on the board of directors. He retired in 1957 and passed away in 1961, probably leaving a very wealthy accident-prone widow.