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Our Heritage

8 Johnson & Johnson Inventions We’re Grateful For

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we're gathering to celebrate just a few of the many ways that the company has changed life, and health, as we know it over the last 130 years.
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“From its founding in 1886 to this very day, Johnson & Johnson is constantly identifying areas of unmet need—and then innovating to fill that need,” says the company's Chief Historian Margaret Gurowitz Margaret Gurowitz,Chief Historian, Johnson & Johnson. “And that’s been true since we first mass-produced sterile surgical products to the investigational HIV vaccine that is in clinical trials today.”

As we look to celebrate Thanksgiving, we’re giving thanks for eight innovative Johnson & Johnson products that have helped revolutionize modern life, from the operating room to your own bathroom.

1.

Listerine®

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This first-of-its-kind mouthwash is responsible for helping improve our oral hygiene and post-meal breath. It’s also uniquely tied to Johnson & Johnson’s history.

In 1876, Dr. Joseph Lawrence attended a rousing lecture about antiseptic surgery given by English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister—the same speech that ultimately led Robert Wood Johnson and his brothers to found Johnson & Johnson.

Thanks to that lecture, Dr. Lawrence was inspired to develop a surgical disinfectant that was less toxic to surgeons’ hands than existing options. He named it Listerine®, in Lister’s honor. In 1895, dentists began using Listerine as an oral antiseptic for patients. It was subsequently produced as a mouthwash in 1914, making it one of the first commercial oral care products.

Bringing things full circle, Listerine is now a Johnson & Johnson product—and remains the world’s #1 daily mouthwash, with one swish killing up to 99% of germs.

2.

Sterile Sutures

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Carbolized Ligatures (a.k.a. sutures) were one of Johnson & Johnson's first sterile surgical products

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

Talk about an invention that gives us life: When Johnson & Johnson began mass-producing sterile sutures, it forever changed the outcome of operations for both doctors and patients alike.

“Previously, surgeons would use ordinary sewing needles and thread to close an incision—and used them on patient after patient,” Gurowitz explains. “Needless to say, the rate of infection was very high.”

So when Johnson & Johnson introduced mass-produced sterile sutures in 1887, it revolutionized medical history, ultimately lowering on-site infections and making surgery dramatically more survivable.

Today, seven out of 10 surgical patients around the world are stitched up with the modern version of those original sutures.

3.

First Aid Kits

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Johnson & Johnson's 1888 Railroad Emergency Case

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

We owe this invention all to a fortuitous train trip that company founder Robert Wood Johnson took to Colorado in 1888.

When the railway surgeon sitting next to him explained the incredibly high injury rate for railroad workers, often in remote areas, it sparked an idea to create a kit of medical products that could help people treat themselves anytime, anywhere—which gave birth to the first commercial first aid kits.

Within two years, there was such demand for these kits that new versions were created for home use, factories, schools—even one for treating snake bites.

4.

Water-Resistant Sunscreen

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Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

Around the 1970s, as the dangers of prolonged sun exposure were coming to light, Johnson & Johnson debuted the first water-resistant sunscreen, Sundown®, to help protect people who were hopping between their beach towels and the ocean, lake or pool.

“Today, the company continues to be a leader in sunscreen production with science-based products featuring higher SPF and new technologies to protect skin,” Gurowitz says. Now that’s a glow-up to be grateful for.

5.

Disposable Contact Lenses

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Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

In 1987, Johnson & Johnson Vision debuted Acuvue® Brand Contact Lenses, the first disposable contact lenses that could be worn for up to a week.

“Because they didn’t need extensive cleaning, disposable lenses greatly reduced the threat of potential germs,” Gurowitz explains. Not to mention that they saved lens wearers an extra step six mornings a week!

6.

Breakthrough Medications

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Tuberculosis in the lungs

Two of the biggest health epidemics of our time have been HIV—which has evolved into a manageable condition in many parts of the globe, thanks to medical advances—and tuberculosis (TB), which is the world’s #1 killer when it comes to infectious diseases.

Johnson & Johnson has helped address these epidemics through the development of new treatments, including eight HIV medicines and the first new medicine approved in more than 40 years to help treat multidrug-resistant TB.

“These efforts illustrate the company’s investment in public health—and people,” Gurowitz says.

7.

Imodium®

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It’s that time of year when all those rich, celebratory foods of the season, not to mention the stress of the holidays themselves, can wreak havoc on sensitive tummies.

Enter this stomach-soothing medicine developed in 1976 by Paul Janssen, M.D., founder of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

Today Imodium® is the #1 doctor-recommended, over-the-counter anti-diarrheal product. And Imodium Multi-Symptom Relief products can help provide relief for gas, bloating, cramps and pressure that can accompany an overindulgent Thanksgiving meal.

8.

BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages

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Until Johnson & Johnson employee Earle Dickson combined surgical adhesive tape with a strip of sterile gauze to create the first BAND-AID® Brand adhesive bandages, there wasn’t a product out there for cooks who, like his wife, were prone to nicks as they minced, chopped and diced.

“Before that, if people wanted to cover a cut, they had to reach into their rag bag, cut a strip off, and try to tie it off with one hand,” Gurowitz explains.

Nearly 100 years later, more than 4 billion of the skin-protecting bandages are sold each year, ranging from kid-friendly versions decorated with cartoon characters to the new (BAND-AID®)RED bandages that help fight HIV/AIDS with every purchase.

Which will you have on hand as you prep your Turkey Day feast?

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