Who Was Earle Dickson?

If it were not for Earle Dickson's wife managing to cut, scrape, or burn herself while cooking dinner what would we put on these skin accidents? This is one of life's everyday things.

Earle Dickson, an employee of Johnson & Johnson, devised an interesting invention. With his marriage to Josephine Knight in 1917, he made an observation. It appeared that with every meal Josephine prepared, there seemed to be minor accidents. She managed to cut, burn, or scrape herself in one way or another. The task of finding some type of gauze to put on the wound was becoming monotonous. Josephine was hurting herself more frequently and they were having difficulty in finding things to cover the scrapes. During this period of time there were large bandages available, but they made manueuvering the hand and fingers difficult. The injuries were not severe enough to use the large surgical bandages that Johnson & Johnson had.

Earle was becoming frustrated because there was nothing he could do to protect the cuts. Then he came up with an idea. Dickson worked in the purchasing department and his job was to purchase cotton for Johnson & Johnson. This would work out to his advantage. He took some cotton and placed it at different places on the strip of adhesive. He then put crinoline on top of the cotton on the adhesive strips. Crinoline is a type of fabric that is sometimes used as layer underneath a woman's evening gown. The crinoline fabric is normally a stiff cloth. He would use the crinoline to cover the sticky portion of the adhesive strips. This concoction made by Dickson was easy for Josephine to use. All she had to do was cut the adhesive strip to the size she needed for her accidents. Dickson wanted to develop something that would somehow stay in place.

Since Earle worked for Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, he felt it might be a good idea to explain this idea to his boss. A friend of Dickson's encouraged him to speak to Johnson & Johnson. He took his advice, but was turned down. He still believed they would be very interested in this invention and decided to demonstrate to them how the bandage would work. His idea was referred to as Band-Aids, but was not a hit on the market during the first year. The first year only about $3,000 worth of the product was sold. Then Johnson & Johnson began contemplating how they could market this innovative product and Band-Aids were born in 1921. The company decided to give the Band-Aids to Boy Scouts hoping the word would spread about this protective covering for scrapes and cuts.

When Johnson & Johnson put the product on the market, it was not a huge success. Using an assembly line, the bandages were made by hand and entered the market in 1921. In 1940, the red string that is used to pull the paper off of the bandage was added. This product was also distributed to butchers free of charge.

The Band-Aids were actually too large. They were 2½ inches in width and 18 inches in length. As you can visualize, this is extremely too large for any type of small or medium-sized cut. In order to use them for small cuts, they would have to be cut after a person purchased them. The company decided that some drastic measures needed to be taken in order to market the product. Since the size was obviously the factor, a machine was purchased that would be used to determine the size. The size would usually be cut to three quarters of an inch wide and three inches long. Dickson's dream invention was becoming marketable and people were buying the product. Holes in the gauze part of the bandage were added four years later. The history of Dickson's Band-Aid was improved even more in 1939 by being sterilized and in 1958 it consisted of sheer vinyl. Production of the Band-Aid is being produced at about one hundred billion per year.

Because Earle Dickson had provided Johnson & Johnson with such a profitable product, he was given the title of vice president of the company. He was also a member of the board of directors. He retired in 1957 and passed away in 1961. It has been printed that $30,000,000 worth was sold of Dickson's invention each year before his death. So, we really need to commend Dickson's wife for the idea because of the frustration it caused her husband. At that point in history, Earle Dickson did not realize the wealth that would be associated with this invention.

People have been using Dickson's invention for more than seventy-five years to protect cuts and scrapes from infection. With the help of this invention Johnson & Johnson has been able create new and improved bandages. Thanks to Dickson, they were introduced to the market a bandage containing antibiotic ointment. With Dickson's idea of cutting the adhesive strip to use on various sizes of cuts, we have the luxury of purchasing small, medium, and large bandages. Regretably, Dickson did not live to see how his invention made a difference throughout the world.

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