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120 Years of Helping Patients

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Jul 12, 2006

Early J&J Buildings

Johnson & Johnson was founded in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1886 by three brothers: Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson.  The Company produced the first-ever antiseptic surgical dressings, based on Sir Joseph Lister’s theory of asepsis.  Before sterilization, 19th century operating rooms were terrifying places, and patients were considered lucky to survive an operation.  Neither surgeons’ hands nor their instruments were sterilized, nor were the cotton and other materials they used to stop bleeding and dress wounds.  As a result, mortality rates from infection were extremely high.  Sir Joseph Lister, an English physician, tested French scientist Louis Pasteur’s theory of invisible germs as the cause of infection.  Lister sprayed an operating room with carbolic acid, a disinfectant, and in doing so, founded modern antiseptic surgery. 

Robert Wood Johnson the Firstjameswjohnson_b.jpg            Edward Mead Johnson

The above photos show, L to R, Company founders Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson.  In 1876, during the U.S. centennial celebrations, Robert Wood Johnson, who was in the medical products business, attended a conference in Philadelphia and heard Dr. Lister (photo below) speak. 



Lister’s speech inspired Johnson with the idea for a new business that could help patients and surgeons:  the manufacture of the world’s first sterile surgical dressings.   When Johnson formed the new company with his brothers in 1886, the antiseptic dressings they produced dramatically increased the survival rates of surgery patients. 



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