How did being part owner of a cattle ranch lead one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson to develop the first First Aid kits? During the 19th century, health care was hazardous at best and very little attention was paid to first aid and the proper treatment of wounds and injuries. Robert Wood Johnson the first was part owner of a cattle ranch in Colorado, where he liked to spend vacations. Johnson traveled to the ranch by train and, having an outgoing personality, he started a conversation with the chief surgeon of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, who complained about the high accident and injury rates among the railroad workers who were laying track to complete the country’s coast-to-coast rail system. Johnson became convinced that Johnson & Johnson could help fill the urgent need for easily accessible medical products to treat railroad injuries. (When injuries occurred, medical supplies were often too far away to be of timely use.) In 1888, he started asking the advice of additional railway surgeons, and in 1890 the Company produced a first aid kit, the “Railway Station and Factory Supply Case,” based on what they had recommended. It was a large wooden case that held antiseptic dressings, surgical supplies, splints and other medical supplies, along with detailed instructions on how to treat injuries. The kits were placed with local railroad station agents along rail routes so they quickly could be sent to the scene of an accident. These early railroad first aid kits were named after the railway lines they were intended to serve, such as the New York City and Hudson River Railroad.
But Robert Wood Johnson didn’t stop there. He enlisted Scientific Director Fred Kilmer to come up with a definition of first aid, as well as the first-ever comprehensive First Aid manuals. This was important because, at the time, there was no standard of emergency “first aid” care, and efforts to help the injured often did more harm than good due to lack of knowledge. Kilmer, who was a thorough and conscientious scientist, extensively researched first aid by communicating first-hand with physicians who treated emergencies and winnowing through the sometimes conflicting information. He published a series of bulletins on first aid, and later compiled the nation’s first-ever comprehensive First Aid Manual. Kilmer defined first aid as a “’bridge between the accident and medical and surgical assistance, over which the patient may be carried safely and securely from the scene of the accident or sudden illness to the doctor or hospital.’” (Robert Wood Johnson, the Gentleman Rebel, by Lawrence G. Foster, p. 62) The Company soon made first aid kits for use in homes, schools, offices, farms and factories, and later, for those new inventions, the automobile and the airplane.
Besides being the inspiration behind Johnson & Johnson First Aid kits, the coast-to-coast railroads also led to the division of the United States into separate time zones, which happened in 1883, three years before Johnson & Johnson was founded.