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CHAPTER 220

Congratulations, Earle Dickson, Inventor of the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage!

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By Margaret Gurowitz
May 08, 2017

The inventor of the commercial electric light bulb.  The innovators behind the personal computer.  The inventor of the telephone.  The Hollywood movie star who pioneered technology that made wireless communication possible.  The botanist who revolutionized American agriculture.  And now, Johnson & Johnson’s Earle Dickson.  What do all of them have in common?  They have been inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame!

The National Inventor’s Hall of Fame honors individuals whose inventions have made the world a better place, while celebrating the rich innovation history of the United States and honoring ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship.  Congratulations to Earle Dickson, who was inducted at the May 4th ceremony in Washington, D.C., for inventing the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.

Earle Dickson, inventor of the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.  Image: Johnson & Johnson Archives.


Earle Dickson, inventor of the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.  Image: Johnson & Johnson Archives.

How did an employee invent an iconic consumer product?  Let’s go back 97 years to find out:  it’s 1920, and Earle Dickson is a young cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson.  His wife -- home during the day while Earle is at work -- is prone to kitchen accidents, cutting or burning her fingers during meal preparation.  To care for those small cuts, Josephine Dickson has several options:  she can leave the cut unbandaged, which slows healing and risks infection; she can struggle one-handed to try to tie a strip of gauze around her finger; she can go to the rag bag and tear off a strip of fabric and try to tie that around her finger; or she can try to put together a bulky makeshift bandage.  The problem?  These options are very hard to do by yourself, and they don’t stay on to protect the cut while it heals.  So Earle had an idea: he took two Johnson & Johnson products – surgical adhesive tape and gauze – and invented the first ready-made adhesive bandage his wife could apply herself. 

BAND-AID<sup>®/<sup> Brand Adhesive Bandage ad from 1920, showing the product as Earle Dickson invented it.  Image: Johnson & Johnson Archives.
BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage ad from 1920, showing the product as Earle Dickson invented it.  Image: Johnson & Johnson Archives.

Earle took a strip of surgical adhesive gauze (or adhesive plaster, as it was called back then) 18” long and 3” wide, and laid an 18” long strip of gauze lengthwise down the middle.  He covered it with crinoline fabric and rolled it up.  So when Josephine cut herself in the kitchen, she could take Earle’s invention, unroll a bit and cut it straight across, giving her a ready-made bandage with gauze in the middle and adhesive plaster on both sides.  It was easy to use by yourself, it stayed on, and it protected her cut fingers while they healed. 

Very early sample package showing the product, from the Johnson & Johnson Archives.
Very early sample package showing the product, from the Johnson & Johnson Archives.

Earle told his boss, the Cotton Mill supervisor, who told company president James Wood Johnson, one of the three brothers who had founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886.  James, an engineer, recognized the ingenuity and brilliant simplicity of Earle’s invention, and Johnson & Johnson put it on the market in 1921 with the name BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages. 

Patent for the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.  From the Johnson & Johnson Archives.
Patent for the BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.  From the Johnson & Johnson Archives.

Once the public realized how much it needed BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages, demand grew exponentially.  By 1924, Johnson & Johnson invented machinery to make them individually pre-cut.  Today, it’s one of the world’s most iconic and innovative consumer products.

Earle Dickson.  From the Johnson & Johnson Archives.
Earle Dickson.  From the Johnson & Johnson Archives.

Earle Dickson, the young cotton buyer who invented a new wound care product, was recognized for his invention, earning positions of increasing responsibility throughout his career and achieving the rank of vice president and member of the Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors.  This month, Dickson earned a spot in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, in recognition of his idea that helped change the world. 

Congratulations, Earle Dickson!

 

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All comments will be reviewed before posting. Since this blog is about history, topics that don’t directly relate to the history of Johnson & Johnson and its operating companies won’t be posted. Product comments generally will not be posted unless they are of historical interest. Some unrelated issues may be forwarded to Johnson & Johnson folks for follow-up as appropriate. I’m also not going to post any comments that have inappropriate language... so be nice!
Martes harmsworth
FEBRUARY 20, 2018 12:41 AM

who was the first person to used a band aid. was it Earle? and how many band aids are there in the world today can you please tell me i have a school project to do and i cant find the info i need. thank you for all of your help Margeret. :-) i hope to hear something on your band aid vlog any time soon thanks again for all of your help. bye now thx for the help.
all i need the info for is for a school project called spliced and i have to do it on the band aid bye now thanks for every thing :-)

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Margaret Gurowitz
FEBRUARY 21, 2018 04:45 PM

In reply to by Anonymous

Hi Martes,

We don't know who the first person was to use a BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage, but it was likely Earle Dickson's wife, since he invented the product to help her.  For information on how many BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages have been made, please go to the brand's website: https://www.band-aid.com/brand-heritage 

Best of luck on your school project!

Margaret