We Made WHAT?! Continued...
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”)