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Colorful Adhesive Bandages -- Older Than You Think!

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Dec 06, 2010

Designer BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages.  In a tin!

With the success of Cynthia Rowley-designed BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages in special limited edition tins, it has become overwhelmingly clear that adults like wearing consumer wound care products with designs on them as much as kids do.  But there never has been a grown-up version of the colorful BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages until now…or has there?

The Cynthia Rowley designer BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages unwrapped

For a number of years, our consumer products operating company has made BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages decorated with a variety of popular cartoon characters, superheroes and even Hello Kitty (a personal favorite of this blogger).  Parents also are known to wear these colorful bandages on occasion.  So it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone got the idea of making bright, colorful BAND-AID Brand® Adhesive Bandages for adults. 

Three Examples of Colorful BAND-AID Brand® Adhesive Bandages from our history, from this blogger's personal collection.

Actually, the idea of making colorful versions of the product for adults goes all the way back to September of 1949, and it was all because General Robert Wood Johnson, our Chairman and CEO at the time, happened to be listening to the radio one morning between 8:15 and 8:55 a.m. 

General Robert Wood Johnson, circa 1949   

One of Johnson’s friends at the time was famous newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, who had a popular morning radio show with her husband Dick Kollmar called (not surprisingly) “Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick.”  They broadcast it from their home, and Kilgallen must have cut her finger, because that morning, she mentioned on the radio that she wished that her friend Bob Johnson made BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages to match her wardrobe.  Johnson was listening to the show, and he was never one to turn down an opportunity.  When he arrived at the office, he asked if the Company could make Kilgallen some special BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages in colors.  Someone checked with Kilgallen and she said the colors she wanted included bottle green, mauve and shocking pink, according to Lawrence G. Foster’s biography of General Robert Wood Johnson. 

Three of the four colors of special adhesive bandages we made for newspaper columnist and radio personality Dorothy Kilgallen in 1949.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a record of the fourth color.

The assistant product director put in charge of General Johnson’s request took it very seriously (some may say he took it too seriously), and he got a little carried away.  After a number of experiments to see which colored cloth would work best, it was decided that rayon held the best prospects for the colorful bandages.  Two hundred experimental colorful BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages were produced, fifty in each color.  Each bandage had to be hand cut.  They were put into clear plastic containers (it was easier to see the colors that way) and delivered to Kilgallen, who devoted time on the radio the following day to enthusiastically discussing how much she loved the special BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages, and how she planned to wear them everywhere.  She told her listeners that she wore the bright pink first, because it went with her nail polish.

Having taken consumer ideas about products seriously since our founding in 1886, the Company’s marketing department began investigating the prospect of producing colorful BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages for the market.  In 1956, BAND-AID® Brand Stars & Strips went on the market.

BAND-AID® Brand Stars & Strips, not “Stars & Stripes!”

But believe it or not, our first foray into consumer preferences for bandage colors actually goes back even further than that.  From 1901 to 1911, long before BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages were invented, Johnson & Johnson experimented with making colored gauze bandages.  And strangely enough, the color that consumers preferred was black.  The Company’s management puzzled over that surprising preference.  Finally, they came to the conclusion that parents bandaging their children’s cuts and scrapes preferred black because the exterior layer of bandage didn’t show dirt the way the Company’s pristine white bandages did…and for adults, a black bandage blended in better with most fashions.

Today, it’s just not celebrity radio hosts or journalists talking about our designer BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages, but plenty of bloggers as well.  If Dorothy Kilgallen had access to a blog way back in the 1940s, no doubt she would have posted pictures of her colorful BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages and the outfits she matched with them.

Special thanks to Lawrence G. Foster for the story of the Company’s first colorful adhesive bandages in Robert Wood Johnson, The Gentleman Rebel, Lillian Press, 1999.

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Lídia (brazil)
DECEMBER 07, 2010 09:05 AM

It really shows how our company takes consumers opinion seriously.
Great inovation for the time, specially the colorfull gauze history! Fantastic :)

Marcia Marcal Persiano
DECEMBER 07, 2010 04:40 PM

I wish those colorful adult bandages would make a comeback. I think they would sell well. I especially liked the patterned color bandages shown in the beginning of the above article. I think I would wear those adult bandages even if I didn't have a reason to, just for the fun of it!!

Robin L Darby
DECEMBER 08, 2010 10:50 AM

That my company for you!!! Always innovative, always thinking ahead. Even before 3M and the also-rans. I'm to be a member of the team of JNJ employees.

Anne Gross
DECEMBER 14, 2010 10:49 AM

Great idea, ifs fun to be creative and have nice "grown-up" designs on your hands or knees. Thanks for the nice designs, Cynthia. It will even make me want to grab a Band-Aid more quickly.
Anne Gross

The Leg Spreader
DECEMBER 14, 2010 12:01 PM

I wish those colorful adult bandages would make a comeback. I think they would sell well. I especially liked the patterned color bandages shown in the beginning of the above article. I think I would wear those adult bandages even if I didn’t have a reason to, just for the fun of it!!

NOVEMBER 06, 2011 05:53 PM

In reply to by Susan

Hi Susan,

As a matter of fact, in the 1990s, the BAND-AID® Brand came out with BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages that featured endangered species, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. One of those designs had whales on it. WHen someone bought that product, part of the purchase price went to support WWF efforts to protect endangered species worldwide.