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Absorbent Sterile Cotton, 1886

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Johnson & Johnson was the first company to make cotton white, sterile, and absorbent. Though cotton had been used in surgeries prior to Johnson & Johnson’s founding, the plant’s natural oils prevented it from being an effective surgical dressing. Additionally, most cotton arrived at hospitals unclean and unprocessed, full of dirt and plant materials. So, when Johnson & Johnson mass-produced the first sterilized, absorbent cotton in thin sheets, which could be cut to fit the size of the wound, it was a breakthrough in surgical care. The company did not patent the technology so that it could be widely adopted by other companies to help save patients’ lives.