A lot of people are interested in the connection between Johnson & Johnson, the Red Cross symbol, and the American Red Cross right now, so here’s some background on Johnson & Johnson and the Red Cross trademark. The use of the Red Cross trademark by Johnson & Johnson on its products actually predates the Congressional charter of the American Red Cross by thirteen years. Johnson & Johnson has used the Red Cross symbol since 1887 on products such as sterile gauze, dressings and cotton, sterile catgut sutures, adhesive plasters, first aid products, a variety of medicated plasters and a large number of other products.
Early Cotton Products Circa 1887 Using Red Cross Trademark
Early Sutures and Ligatures using Red Cross Trademark
Cover of 1888 MODERN METHODS OF ANTISEPTIC WOUND TREATMENT
The Red Cross symbol, which came to identify many of the Company’s products, had become a valued trademark and a symbol of the products made by Johnson & Johnson.
The American National Red Cross was formed in the early 1880s by Clara Barton and was trying to get official recognition. As a volunteer nurse, Barton had provided battlefield medical care to soldiers during the Civil War and had become involved with the International Committee of the Red Cross, leading her to found the American branch. The organization received a Congressional charter in 1900 that officially recognized the group and mandated it to fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Convention by giving aid to victims of war and natural disasters. Here’s a history of the American Red Cross.
One of the requirements of signatories to the Geneva Convention was to protect the Red Cross insignia. The U.S. had signed and approved the Geneva Convention in 1882, but the American Red Cross did not receive its first charter officially recognizing the organization until 1900. The Congressional charter establishing the American Red Cross granted the ARC exclusive rights to use the Red Cross symbol. The charter and an accompanying 1905 criminal statute allowed companies already using the symbol to continue using it.
Red Cross Toothache Plasters
Before the Congressional charter in 1900, the Red Cross symbol was just a trademark in the U.S. During that time, there were many products that used the Red Cross symbol as a trademark, such as Red Cross Cigars, Red Cross Whiskey, Red Cross Playing Cards, Red Cross Washing Machines, Red Cross Stoves, Red Cross Churns, Red Cross Dog Collars and Red Cross Soap.
In 1895, as a contingency plan, Robert Wood Johnson the first and Fred Kilmer had started discussions with Clara Barton about the use of the Red Cross symbol. The Johnson brothers asserted that they had established the right to use the trademark they had been using for eight years. As a result, after a number of meetings, an agreement was signed between Johnson & Johnson and the American National Red Cross on January 29, 1895 that recognized Johnson & Johnson’s rights. It stated “It is agreed that the said Johnson & Johnson are now and for a long time past have been entitled at common law and otherwise to the exclusive use of the symbol of a red cross as a trade-mark.” The document was signed by R. W. Johnson and Clara Barton. Finally, a decade after the agreement, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation protecting the American Red Cross’s use of the red cross mark, but at the same time reserving the rights of Johnson & Johnson to use it too.