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A vintage 1921 advertisement for BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages alt
A 1921 ad for BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives
Our Heritage J&J Lightbulb Moment

How One Woman’s Cooking Mishaps Sparked the Creation of BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages

In honor of the iconic product’s debut in January 1921, we peel back the layers of time to reveal the “aha!” moment behind its invention.
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osephine Knight Dickson was always getting minor nicks and burns while working in the kitchen. And while this may seem like no big deal these days, back when Knight Dickson was prepping her family's meals in 1920, “there were no good options for bandaging such small injuries hygienically,” says Margaret Gurowitz Circular image Margaret Gurowitz,Chief Historian, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson & Johnson’s in-house historian. “And this was before antibiotics, so infections posed a serious risk.”

Knight Dickson likely resorted to what many did at the time: winding a strip of fabric around her wound and tying a knot on the end to secure it—a hack that was neither sterile nor likely to withstand hand-washing.

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Josephine Knight Dickson (left) and Earle Dickson in 1953

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

A frustrated Josephine shared her plight with her husband, Earle Dickson, who happened to be a cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson—and he had an “aha!” moment. What if he could create an easy-to-apply, sanitary covering for his wife’s wounds that would stay on while she went about her work?

Dickson brought home a cache of antiseptic cotton gauze and surgical adhesive tape, which were made by Johnson & Johnson as part of the company's suite of sterile surgical products. He took a strip of tape that was 18 inches long by 3 inches wide, and laid a slightly narrower piece of gauze lengthwise down the middle. He then covered the surface with a crinoline fabric to keep it from sticking to itself, and folded up the whole thing into a neat roll that his wife could keep at the ready.

All Knight Dickson would need to do is unfold the roll, and use scissors to snip off as much adhesive bandage as needed to quickly cover her kitchen mishaps—and help keep them clean.

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The product got off to a slow start because it was such a novel idea and people had to be taught how to use it. But Johnson & Johnson recognized that it filled a great unmet need in consumer care and stuck with it.

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From Josephine's Kitchen to Households Across the Country

The product worked so well for his wife that Dickson decided to share the invention with his boss, who quickly recognized its potential. Soon afterward, Johnson & Johnson manufactured a small test batch of what it dubbed BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages, and sold them to pharmacists to see if they would catch on.

They did—but not overnight.

“The product got off to a slow start because it was such a novel idea and people had to be taught how to use it,” Gurowitz explains, adding that sales only totaled $3,000 that first year. “But Johnson & Johnson recognized that it filled a great unmet need in consumer care and stuck with it, tapping the company's traveling salesmen to help demonstrate the product to doctors and retail pharmacists across the country.”

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One of the first boxes of BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages from 1921

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages officially went on the market in 1921, and for the first few years, they were made by hand and packaged exactly as Dickson had invented them—a roll you had to trim with scissors.

In 1924, Johnson & Johnson began selling them in the form we know today: precut and individually wrapped, thanks to machinery the company created to mass-produce the bandages.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“Once people realized how effective the bandages were, they became a trusted household product—and that’s continued for generations,” Gurowitz says. “These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person in the U.S. who has not used a BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandage.”

Following the commercial success of his design, Dickson was promoted to vice president at Johnson & Johnson, and eventually joined the company's board of directors. Last year, more than 50 years after his death, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, joining the ranks of fellow innovators like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Johnson & Johnson has a virtual museum where you can learn more fun facts about its rich history.
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