Though his name has been somewhat lost to history over the years, Earle Dickson (1893-1961) is responsible for the invention of one of the world’s most useful devices for the accident-prone: the Band-Aid® brand adhesive bandage.
In 1917, Dickson married Josephine Frances Knight. He quickly realized that his new bride seemed to constantly be nicking her fingers while working in the kitchen, and he thought the big bandages he was using to help her treat them were too large and clumsy.
He decided to affix small pieces of the sterile gauze to the center of strips of surgical tape. Dickson folded the gauze into a narrow pad, unrolled the tape, laid the gauze over it, and put down a band of crinoline to keep the tape from sticking to itself. He then rerolled the tape so that his wife could unwind and scissor off what she needed.
At the time, Dickson happened to be working for Johnson & Johnson as a cotton buyer in New Brunswick, New Jersey. When Dickson mentioned what he had created to a fellow employee there, he was encouraged to approach management with the idea. The Johnsons weren't overly impressed initially, but then Dickson showed them that he could easily apply his bandage to himself. This, they thought, was a great feature.
Johnson & Johnson was already a popular manufacturer of large cotton and gauze bandages for hospitals and soldiers when Dickson offered up his Band-Aid® solution. Unfortunately, the original handmade bandages did not sell well; only $3,000 worth of the product was sold during their first year. This may have been because the first versions of the bandages came in sections that were 2 1/2 inches wide and 18 inches long.
Sales were poor until the company distributed an unlimited number of free Band-Aids® to Boy Scout troops across the country, sparking widespread use. By 1924, Johnson & Johnson was producing different sizes of Band-Aids® by machine. The bandages were completely sterilized in 1939 and spun out in sheer vinyl in 1958. Over one hundred billion Band-Aids® have been made.
Johnson & Johnson eventually made Dickson a vice president at the company, a position in which he remained until his retirement in 1957. He was also a member of the board of directors until his death in 1961. At the time of his death, Johnson & Johnson was selling over $30,000,000 worth of Band-Aids® each year.