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Museum Find of the Month: Holiday Gift Tape

Pretty presents under the tree: The story of Johnson & Johnson’s gift tape business

Over its more than 130-year history, the company produced some unexpected products, like holiday-themed gift wrap tape. In-house historian Margaret Gurowitz delves into the details behind the company’s foray into decorative tape.

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When you hear the words “tape” and “Johnson & Johnson,” what initially comes to mind? In all likelihood, you picture the company’s ubiquitous white first aid tape.

But at one point in its storied history, Johnson & Johnson actually produced a decidedly more colorful tape—the kind that added a bit of whimsy to holiday packages.

Tape with a touch of holiday cheer

Like so many good ideas, the company’s decision to branch out into producing decorative tape came about as a way to fill a need.

In the early 1920s, the company noticed that a pharmacist in Detroit was ordering an unusually large amount of medical tape—and there was a surprising reason why.

“The druggist explained that he’d been selling thousands of rolls of medical tape to car manufacturers who were using it to help with two-tone paint jobs,” explains Johnson & Johnson’s in-house historian Margaret Gurowitz.

Museum Find of the Month: Bondex Holiday patterns

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

Sensing an opportunity, the company established a special unit to produce tape for auto manufacturers. The new business was so successful that it soon expanded to cover other types of tape for industrial and home use—including Texcel gift wrap tape, featuring holiday motifs like poinsettias and Santa sleighs.

“During the holidays, Johnson & Johnson also sold candy cane and other holiday stencils (shown right) that could be traced onto fabric patches and cut out to adorn tablecloths and tree-skirts,” adds Gurowitz.

In the 1990s, Johnson & Johnson divested its non-medical tape business, but there are no doubt some vintage candy cane stencils just waiting to be pulled out this holiday season.

When you’ve been innovating for over 135 years …

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

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