The Johnson & Johnson historic product heat index: 11 of the hottest company innovations
From the creation of sterile surgical sutures in 1887 to the debut of the first water-resistant sunscreen in 1976, these products were some of the most significant inventions of their time.
Since 1886, Johnson & Johnson has had a knack for divining which products consumers need and want most—leading to a bevy of instant classics and some household staples that are sold to this day.
As the summer reaches its zenith, we’re spotlighting 11 such products from the 19th and early 20th centuries that sizzled with promise and ingenuity when they debuted on the market.
Can you guess which iconic bathroom item has been sold for over 130 years now?
Unlike many of Johnson & Johnson’s early products, Beauty Spots, which debuted in 1913, were purely cosmetic: Women could adorn their faces with the little adhesive hearts, crescent moons and stars made from silk and taffeta—materials that the company used to make court plaster products at the time.
Zonweiss Tooth Cream
Zonweiss (which means “white teeth” in German) was initially sold in a jar that came with a spoon consumers used to apply the cream to their toothbrush. It was later repackaged in what some say was the first squeezable toothpaste tube. Today, Listerine® brand toothpastes carry on the Zonweiss legacy.
In the 1970s, scientists were just beginning to discover the link between prolonged sun exposure and skin cancer. Enter Sundown, the very first water-resistant sunblock to hit the market. It blocked harmful UV rays, as well as held up to dunks in the pool or ocean. And it’s still sold today in Brazil, more than 30 years later.
These digestive tablets were the first of several medications the company manufactured using papaya extract, which showed promise at the time as a treatment for indigestion. While Papoid was discontinued in the late 1940s, when scientific advances made papaya-based pills obsolete, it paved the way for present-day stomach relievers, like Pepcid®.
Johnson’s® Baby Lotion
This popular addition to Johnson & Johnson’s baby products business, which launched in 1894, was designed to prevent diaper and heat rash. Johnson’s Baby Lotion is still sold to this day.
When mom Vesta Stoudt went to work inspecting and packing boxes of cartridges used by soldiers to launch rifle grenades, she discovered that they were sealed with paper tape that tore easily. Her solution: She wrote to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with an idea for a stronger, waterproof cloth tape. That ballsy move led the country’s War Production Board to ask Johnson & Johnson to create duck tape, which was made from cotton duck fabric. Later, “duck” became “duct” when the product was marketed for use in construction. Although Johnson & Johnson no longer manufactures duct tape, it remains a popular fix-it product.
BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages
This household staple has humble beginnings. As the story goes, cotton buyer Earle Dickson’s wife, Josephine, was prone to cutting her fingers while cooking. To apply gauze and adhesive tape required two sets of hands, so he simplified the process for her by placing gauze down a long strip of tape. This way, she could snip off the amount she needed and apply it herself. Dickson showed the invention to his boss, who shared it with the then-president of Johnson & Johnson—and a classic was born.
Although floss existed before this time, Johnson & Johnson was the first company to make it widely available in 1898. The company used excess silk left over from its suture-manufacturing business to give consumers an affordable, easy way to keep their teeth and gums healthy.
First aid kits
Company owner Robert Wood Johnson was part owner of a cattle ranch in Colorado, and on a train ride out West, he met a surgeon who clued him into the high injury rates among railroad workers. Johnson’s solution: the very first commercial first aid kits, which held antiseptic dressings, splints and other medical supplies. Johnson & Johnson went on to produce many different first aid kits—even one for Boy Scouts!
Johnson & Johnson’s invention of the first mass-produced sterile sutures in 1887 was literally life-changing: Previously, surgical tools were often reused from patient to patient, so sterile sutures helped usher in the concept of modern antiseptic surgery, leading to an uptick in survival rates in American hospitals.
Dr. Joseph Lawrence formulated Listerine and named it in honor of English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister, a man who pioneered antiseptic surgery—and inspired the founding of Johnson & Johnson. Nearly 140 years since its debut in 1879, the mouthwash is still a popular way to kill 99% of bad breath germs.