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CHAPTER 72

We Made WHAT?! Continued...

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Dec 11, 2008

What’s the weirdest thing ever made by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies?  Was it a tonic medicine with a sherry base?  Or sausage casings?  Or doll clothing?  (Yes, we once made that too, out of non-woven fabric.  That’s the subject of a future post.) Or maybe beauty spots?  Or duct tape?  Or maybe…it was rubber bands.

rbrband002.jpg

Some Typical Modern Non-Company Related Rubber Bands

So…we made rubber bands?  Yes we actually did -- or to be more accurate, one of our acquisitions did in 1910.   Readers of Kilmer House will remember that the Company made its first major acquisition in 1905 when it purchased the J. Ellwood Lee Company of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.  That company was a medical products manufacturer that made medicinal plasters, catheters and other medical equipment.   Lee, a self-made business success, became a member of the Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors along with two of his associates including Charles Heber Clark, a Lee company executive who happened to be a world-renowned humorist of the time.

1910 Johnson & Johnson and J. Ellwood Lee Company Price List

Dual Johnson & Johnson/J. Ellwood Lee Company Price List from 1910

So, back to the rubber bands.   As part of the acquisition, each company agreed to list the other’s products in their catalogs.  The J. Ellwood Lee Company made products such as catheters, gloves, water bottles and medical tubing that were made out of rubber and, in 1910, Lee constructed an automobile tire factory in Pennsylvania to make tires for the new automobile industry.  (Pursuit of that market by Lee also temporarily put Johnson & Johnson in the auto tire business, until all ties between the Company and the Lee Tire & Rubber Company were severed.)

J. Ellwood Lee

J. Ellwood Lee

Rubber bands were often given away to customers by retail druggists.   J. Ellwood Lee, ever an enterprising businessman, saw an opportunity and started packaging cards and boxes of red rubber bands in assorted sizes that could be sold by druggists.  “Jelco” rubber bands, as they were called (the name is a contraction of the J. Ellwood Lee Company name) were advertised as an improvement over standard rubber bands due to their improved elasticity and longevity, a result of the type of rubber used and an improved method of curing it during manufacture.  So as part of the agreement to list and promote each other’s products, in the 1910 issues of The Red Cross Messenger, Johnson & Johnson promoted Jelco Rubber Bands to retail druggists and listed them in its price lists.

1910 Price List: Jelco Rubber Bands

Page from the 1910 Price List showing the listing for Jelco Rubber Bands

(By the way, Lee’s automobile tires were initially also called “Jelco” until automaker Henry Ford objected…because he didn’t want his automobiles riding around on tires that suggested “jelly” to people.  So Lee changed the name of the tires to “Lee of Conshohocken.”)

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Oscar Ayala
MARCH 20, 2009 09:49 AM

Gentlemen
This is a very informative section.
I have a contribution, which may be considered for an update here.
Since I was a Marketing Product Manager por JB Diapers around 1985, I was certainly intrigued by a comment that was recently made in a Baby Franchise Meeting in Latin America, which I had never heard before. Was JJ actually the firm that conceptualized and produced the first disposable diapers in the world? I think this would be a fascinating subject to cover here.
Best regards,

Oscar Ayala A.
Change Management Regional Lead
JJ Consumer Latin America
Cali, Colombia

Margaret
MARCH 20, 2009 10:18 AM

Oscar,

The Company introduced CHUX disposable diapers in 1950. I don't know if they were the first disposables in the world, but they had to have been close. I will certainly investigate, and will do a post on it in the future. Thanks for your comment!

Margaret

Bonni Babson
MARCH 20, 2009 10:54 PM

Dear Margaret,
As a longtime shareholder I am enjoying your history of JNJ.
Wasn't there a division called JELCO in NJ sometime in the mid to late 1970's that made cannulas and metal tubing for syringes? A man named Frederick Monks told me he built a tube mill that started with flat metal stock, probably stainless steel, formed it around a mandrel, then drew it into the final small diameter. He lived in the same apartment building, and I met him in the laundry room. I thought it was an interesting story. Did anything ever come of that operation?

Bonni Babson

Margaret
MARCH 23, 2009 09:45 AM

Dear Bonnie,

I'm glad you're enjoying Kilmer House! There was indeed a division called JELCO. It dates back to 1905 and was our first major acquisition, the J. Ellwood Lee Company of Conshohocken, PA. If you're interested in reading the history of the acquisition, and a little bit about J. Ellwood Lee, there are three posts: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=48

http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=544

This next post talks about Charles Heber Clark, a J. Elwood Lee board member who became a Johnson & Johnson board member with the acquisition. Clark was a well-known humorist of his day, and was ranked alongside Mark Twain: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=326

Margaret

Kevin W. Lee
SEPTEMBER 07, 2009 10:44 PM

Having lost everything in a house fire last year, all photos of Lee Land, and my great grandfather were lost.
Do you have any artifacts and/or photos?
Kevin Lee

Margaret
SEPTEMBER 08, 2009 10:25 AM

Kevin,

Sorry to hear about the fire. Other than what you see on the blog, we don't have any additional artifacts of J. Ellwood Lee. We do have a photo of him from one of our old publications, which is reproduced in this post. Here are links to the posts about Lee and the J. Ellwood Lee Company:

http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=48

http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=544

http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=326

Margaret

Vincent Webb
OCTOBER 20, 2009 08:27 AM

Margaret,
I might be able to help Mr. Lee (September 7 2009 posting)in his efforts to replace some photos/artifacts of J Elwood Lee. Our family has a wonderful photograph of J Elwood that should be in the possession of a Lee family member. Feel free to forward my email address to Mr. Lee if permitted.
Vince Webb

Kevin Lee
JANUARY 15, 2011 12:19 PM

Dear Margaret and Mr. Vince Webb,
Thank You for the helpfull links.
As J. Ellwood Lee's great grandson, I would appreciate
any family photos.
My E-mail address is:
kevolmhinc@hotmail.com

Kevin Lee

Gabriel Barros
FEBRUARY 11, 2011 04:44 PM

It was very interesting to know where the Jelco brand came from! Actually, as recent as last decade, J&J was still selling Jelco branded IV catheters, until 2003 when the vascular access business was divested.

Gabriel

Marva Johnson
AUGUST 19, 2011 06:03 PM

to whom it may concern:
i have a dark brownish amber glass holder that gauze came in.
it has j. ellwood lee co. gauze jar pat"d jan 10,1893
antiseptic dressings
conshohocken ,pa.
on the side it has lees absorbent gauze carbolated
j.ellwood lee co.
manufactured chemist
conshohocken,pa u.s.a.

my grand mother & aunt & cousin & my mom have all
been affiliated with nursing to one extent or another
back in the war times. can you tell me what this might be worth today.
any type of history? deeply appreciated. please e mail me a.s.a.p.
thank you.

sincerely,
marva johnson

Margaret
AUGUST 30, 2011 03:45 PM

In reply to by marva johnson

Hi Marva,

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply -- even history bloggers take a week's vacation! The J. Ellwood Lee Company was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1905. Your glass jar dates to the time before the J. Ellwood Lee Company was acquired by Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson, founded in 1886, manufactured the first mass produced sterile dressings and sterile sutures in the U.S. In time, other companies also started making mass produced sterile dressings. Carbolated gauze was a sterile dressing, usually in a solution as opposed to dry, which is why it was packaged in jars that could be sealed to keep the contents sterile. It would have been used in surgery. Here's a post about the J. Ellwood Lee Company: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/2006/11/the-companys-first-acquisition/

Here's another post that talks a bit about its founder, J. Ellwood Lee and one of its board members, Charles Heber Clark, who was a leading humorist of his day and a literary rival of Mark Twain: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/2008/03/charles-heber-clark/

Your product was from the early days of mass produced sterile dressings. The availability of mass produced, ready to use sterile surgical products (started by Johnson & Johnson in the U.S.) made it possible for the first time for many doctors and hospitals to try antiseptic surgery. Before 1886, surgery (with a few exceptions) wasn't sterile, and had extremely high mortality rates due to infection. The jar from the carbolized gauze that you have is one of the early products that enabled sterile surgery to be adopted as standard practice. For a family with long associations with nursing, that would definitely be a meaningful jar to have!

Best Regards,

Margaret

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Jeramy Taylor
NOVEMBER 18, 2011 08:54 AM

Hello , I have come across a really old first aid packet that was made for the cambria steel company by the j.ellwood company. Was wondering the age of the box it has metal on the edges and instuctions on what to do if someone was injuried if u could tell me more about this packet that would be great. thank you jeramy

Margaret
NOVEMBER 18, 2011 11:01 AM

In reply to by JERAMY TAYLOR

Hi Jeramy,

Johnson & Johnson made the first ever First Aid kits starting in 1888 and 1890. The initial kits wer emade for the railroads, but business and industry quickly adopted them, and a variet of First Aid Kits were made for use in manufacturing facilities, offices, public buildings, etc. We acquired the J. Ellwood Lee Company in 1905, and they also made a variety of health care products. Without a photo, it's difficult to give you more information. If you could take a picture of your first aid packet and email it to me through the blog's email address, I will be able to research it for you. The email address is kilmerhouse@its.jnj.com.

Thanks,

Margaret

Jeramy Taylor
AUGUST 03, 2013 08:26 AM

Hello Margaret I have finally sent a few pictures of this first aid kit I have had .hopefully it's helps with a little more information. And my big question would be what would this be worth to someone? Thank you jerAmy

Margaret
AUGUST 05, 2013 05:49 PM

Hi Jeramy,

Thanks for sending pictures of your J. Ellwood Lee First Aid Kit! I checked our historical price lists where they intersect with the J. Ellwood Lee Company after it became part of Johnson & Johnson in 1905, and I did not find a listing for your particular kit -- probably because it was made specifically for the Cambria Steel Company, so it wouldn't appear in the general price lists. I am also not able to tell the age from the photos, but my best guess would be that it's from the very early part of the 20th century. I don't have any information regarding the potential value of your kit, but the best way to get an idea of that would be to look on the online auction and antiques websites to see what similar kits are going for.

Best Regards,

Margaret

Aarron Doherty
APRIL 06, 2019 05:56 PM

I have what I was told civil war field dressing glass bottles of absorbent gauze made by J ELLYWOOD LEE so these can be as old as 158 years old my grandma gave them to me.