November 14, 2011

Uncovering the history of Band-Aids

Day 318 of Vintage 365


A few days ago I was taking a shower at a time when I was ridiculously sleepy (never a good move, I know), and in doing so somehow managed to nick the finger on my left ringer finger with my razor so deeply that it cut through the whole nail to the flesh, taking a chunk (from the middle) of the nail with it in the process.

While a bit painful, more than being irked by a spot of discomfort, I was stupefied as to how it happened - especially given that I don't remember placing my left hand near the razor on my leg, but evidently I had done just that.

Once the bleeding (cue Hitchcock movie scene) had stopped and I’d accessed that luckily it wasn't very serious, I finished up my shower, hopped out and put a Band-Aid on my little wound. Precisely as we've all done with very cuts, scratches, and "boo-boos" throughout our lives.

Perhaps to distract my mind from my uncharacteristically clumsy move, as I slipped the flexible little dressing out of its thin paper wrapper, I began to think about the history of Band-Aids.

I recalled that they'd been around since at least the 30s (when I was about nine years old, and considering at the time one day going to a career in medicine, I bought a wonderful little black metal first aid kit from the late 30s at an auction, inside of which were some very old unused Band-Aids) and were originally launched by Johnson & Johnson, but beyond that I knew I'd have to turn to the history books.

Interestingly, those time-preserved Band-Aids I had from the thirties were well on their way to being amongst the first batch ever made (though certainly, that wasn't the case - I just mean that they were from the early days of this great invention's life), as Band-Aids first hit the scene in 1920.

Appling a dressing to a wound is certainly not a twentieth century concept. I'd venture to say that for as long as people have been injuring themselves, they've been covering up their wounds with some material or another (such as leaves or thin pieces of animal skin). Evolutionarily speaking it makes a lot of sense to try and cover your injuries - not only to promote healing, but also to help keep the scent of blood to a minimum when our ancient ancestors were surviving as hunters facing down menacing wild beasts for their own survival.

Such drastic measures where not the inspiration behind why a fellow named Earle Dickson, a Johnson & Johnson employee, created the first adhesive bandages that we now know as Band-Aids back in 1920 though. Instead he was trying to come up with a quick dressing that his wife, who - so the story goes - was prone to injuring herself in the kitchen, could easily and quickly apply when she got hurt.

Prior to the modern adhesive bandage's invention, one needed to apply both gauze (or a similar, medically safe material) and an adhesive tape if they wanted a wound dressing that was really going to stay put for a while. What Earle did was to combine the two into one compact, quick and easy product that anyone could carry with them in a first-aid kit, handbag, or pocket.

The first commercially produced Band-Aids were a bit bigger than the ones we're familiar with today, and they were all cut by hand. By the mid-20s however, the process became more streamlined and mechanized, and the popularly of this very handy product began to soar.

In the years since this nifty creation has found its way into countless homes and hospitals around the world, and has truly been a godsend for many of us on more than one occasion.

While originally packaged in metal tins (as they continued to be for several decades), these days most Band-Aids come in paper boxes (though you can sometimes still find them in the lovely metal tins many of us remember from our youth).

{A wonderful mid-twentieth century vintage ad for "Sheer Band-Aids" that includes an image of the great metal type of tin that Band-Aids used to come packaged in. Image via Jon Williamson's terrific Flickr stream.}


At the end of the 30s Band-Aids became sterilized (thus making them even more beneficial as a healing agent for wounds). While other innovations have occurred over the years (and today one can find Band-Aids, be they manufactured by Johnson & Johnson or other brands, in a vast array of sizes and patterns), the basic principle of an all-in-one gauze/adhesive combo remains the same today as it did back in the roaring twenties.

So while the history of Band-Aids isn't the most action packed one ever, it's great to know these super useful little wound dressing have been around for ninety-one years now. One can only guess at how many Band-Aids the world's population has used over this vast expanse of time. Certainly millions upon millions, if not billions by now.

I however just needed one for my silly little accident the other day - a sweetly adorable pink Hello Kitty patterned one from a box that my husband (knowing how much I love Hello Kitty) had picked gotten for me a few months ago.

Cute as these particular bandages are, I've got my (other wound-free!) fingers crossed that I won't be doing anything that clumsy again - and thus in need of another Band-Aid - for a good long while though! Smile


  1. This is great! I'm sure I've idly wondered about the origins of Band-Aids at some point but must say I've never investigated it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I work for the National Inventors Hall of Fame and we have just announced the 2017 Class of Inductees and Mr. Earle Dickson is one of the historic inventors going in this year. His invention to help his wife dress her cuts and burns in the kitchen have reached millions for 90 years.

  3. i'm trying to find out what year johnson & johnson stopped using tin cans. Anyone out there have this info???? thx

  4. Hi there, thank you for your comment and question. My understanding is that J&J continued to use metal cans straight on into the 1990s. Various limited edition tins, marketed as being collectible items, have been periodically produced by J&J still in the years since then.

    Hope that helps! :)

    ❤ Jessica