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