Lister’s Dog Soap: Why Johnson & Johnson once sold a product made for pups
On National Dog Day, we dug into our archives to learn about an antiseptic soap designed over a century ago—and made popular by a future Johnson & Johnson CEO.
Today, no one thinks twice about cuddling up on the couch with Fido and Fluffy. But in the 1800s, man’s best friend had a darker side: Dogs had a tendency to bring fleas and other insects into the home that could lead to diseases like malaria.
“Before the invention of antibiotics and vaccines, these illnesses were incredibly serious, so consumers were very focused on prevention,” explains Margaret Gurowitz, Johnson & Johnson’s chief historian. “To that end, Johnson & Johnson began to develop products designed to combat them, such as disinfectants and fumigators.”
One of those products? Lister’s Dog Soap, an antiseptic soap for animals that was first released in 1896. (As with LISTERINE®, the moniker was an homage to Sir Joseph Lister—the father of modern antiseptic surgery who inspired Johnson & Johnson co-founder Robert Wood Johnson to mass-produce sterile surgical dressings and sutures.)
When Hofmann asked the dog how much he likes Lister’s Soap, Sandy would bark, shake his paw and wag his tail.
At first, it proved to be a tough sell. For one, Johnson & Johnson already sold an antiseptic soap for humans called Synol that consumers were also using to bathe their pets.
Ironically, Lister’s only began picking up customers during the Great Depression, when salesman Philip Hofmann discovered the perfect marketing strategy. “Hofmann trained his pet dog, Sandy, to perform on cue and brought him from pharmacy to pharmacy,” Gurowitz explains. “When Hofmann asked the dog how much he likes Lister’s Soap, Sandy would bark, shake his paw and wag his tail.”
The act paid off. Hofmann ultimately rose through the ranks at Johnson & Johnson, serving as CEO from 1963 to 1973—the first non-Johnson family member to lead the company.
By the 1940s, Lister’s Dog Soap was discontinued, with the advent of medical technology that was more effective at combating contagious diseases. We’re pretty sure Sandy would wag his tail and bark for scientific progress.