Earle and Josephine Dickson seemed to be made for each other. As is the case in every successful marriage, it was as if they were brought together specifically so that each one’s strengths compensated for the other’s weaknesses.
It didn’t take long after their marriage before Josephine’s weakness became apparent. She was a klutz. Not to be insulting or anything, the woman was, quite simply, as clumsy as could be. Scarcely a day would pass without seeing her cut her fingers while working in the kitchen.
None of the injuries were particularly serious, but Earle tended to each one with loving and patient attention. He developed a good routine of retrieving bandages, cleansing the wound, and dressing it so it would heal appropriately. After a while, he got so skilled as a First Aid responder that he started to experiment with ways to improve the quality of service to his bride.
Although Josephine was perpetually getting hurt, the injuries were relatively small. The big roll of bandages Earle kept on hand were way too big for little cuts like that. He began to improvise with a better way to dress her wounds. He found that forgoing the large, clumsy bandages in favor of surgical tape worked better. Even better than that was when he affixed a small piece of sterile gauze to the center of the tape.
His biggest breakthrough came when he realized he could lay out a long length of tape and put the gauze at regular intervals on it. By laying a band of crinoline on the adhesive side of the tape, it could be rerolled without sticking to itself. In this way, Josephine could easily snip off a piece whenever she needed one, even when Earle wasn’t around to help.
If that was all there was to this saga, it would be a touching story of one husband’s affectionate care for his wife. Fortunately for the rest of us, there is more to the tale.
Earle was employed at the time as a cotton buyer for the bandage manufacturer Johnson & Johnson as a cotton buyer. He happened to mention to a colleague that he had been working on a home remedy to help his accident-prone wife. The colleague urged Earle to tell the boss about it. Although skeptical, the higher-ups decided to give Earle’s product a try to see if the public might be interested.
It turns out that the public was not interested — not at first, anyway. The first year, 1920, Earle’s product generated only $3,000 worth of sales. It looked as if Josephine would be the only one to benefit from Earle’s ingenuity. Then Johnson & Johnson made his product available for free to Boy Scout troops throughout the United States. This brought the item to the attention of mothers throughout the nation, and they were impressed.
By 1924, Earle’s innovation was in such high demand that Johnson & Johnson started offering it in different sizes, and consumers grabbed them up just as fast as they could be manufactured.
Earle was rewarded for his creativity and innovation. He was made a vice president at Johnson & Johnson, and after his retirement, he served on the board of directors until his death in 1961. By that point, Earle’s product was generating more than $30,000,000 of sales each year.
You have probably guessed by now what it was that Earle created. You almost certainly have benefitted from it more times than you can remember. Perhaps you are using one right now.
What started as the loving efforts of a husband to care for his clumsy wife became something he could never have imagined. More than 100 billion of them have been manufactured and are used around the world.
Earle’s invention was, of course, the Band-Aid.
Band-Aids® is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson.