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Our Legacy in Public Health

Johnson & Johnson was founded to improve healthcare. In 1886, when the company launched, modern medicine was just beginning. Today, as healthcare has advanced, Johnson & Johnson has evolved with the changing needs of people around the world to stay on the cutting-edge. Through scientific research and the practical application of breakthroughs in medical science, the company has created pioneering products and educational tools to that support its mission to improve global public health.

Antiseptic products were at the heart of the company. Initially, Johnson & Johnson sterilized its products by hand, but as soon at technology allowed, the company invented an industrial steam sterilizing machine.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Sterile surgery and sterile wound treatment, as well as proper training for the public in first aid, helped contribute to a healthier public in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Inspired by Sir Joseph Lister’s antiseptic surgical methods, the Johnson brothers founded the company to expand his revolutionary practices by applying his discoveries to products that could save lives. At a time when operations were incredibly dangerous because few physicians understood basic hygiene, Johnson & Johnson was the first to mass-produce sterile surgical products to help make operations safe. To teach physicians how to perform antiseptic wound treatment and convince them of its necessity, the company wrote and distributed a concise guide (Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment) only two years after it was founded, in 1888. The success of Modern Methods spurred the company’s creation of similar manuals on other crucial early public health topics, including first aid.

First aid was a natural extension of Johnson & Johnson’s sterile surgical products, and like them, it required antiseptic supplies and education. By the late 19th century, there was a growing need for emergency care because more laborers worked with heavy industrial machinery—accidents were common. When disaster struck, unsterile materials that were on hand were used by untrained bystanders to stabilize broken limbs and stop bleeding—these often introduced germs to wounds. Infections led to amputations and even death. To improve treatment, Johnson & Johnson released the first commercial First Aid Kit in 1888. Though First Aid Kits were originally designed for railroad workers, they were soon expanded to meet a wide variety of needs in public buildings, the home, for travelers, and more. 

These early Johnson & Johnson supplies were used for surgeries and first aid.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Mirroring its surgical supplies, Johnson & Johnson realized that the sterile emergency supplies were not enough, so the company published the first comprehensive commercial Hand Book of First Aid in 1901. The manual was an important public health tool at a time before most vaccines. It taught families basic hygiene and disease prevention when communities were especially vulnerable to infectious disease. In 1916 the company published the Household Hand Book, which provided more comprehensive information on hygiene and infectious disease prevention.  The Household Hand Book also included information on how to use the company’s public health products – antiseptic soaps and fumigators – to keep homes clean and help lessen the spread of contagious illness. And when epidemics broke out, like the Global Influenza Pandemic in 1918, Johnson & Johnson pioneered new products to prevent their spread. The pandemic began during World War I, and the conflict brought millions of soldiers all over the world. The flurry of travel also carried the virus, which killed 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans. Tens of millions more fell ill. To combat virus, Johnson & Johnson introduced the Epidemic Mask. Made from sterile gauze (an existing surgical product), the mask successfully prevented the flu. In fact, it was so effective that it was used in later outbreaks to help keep people healthy.

An early Epidemic Mask.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

More than a century later, while scientific research and medicine have advanced our knowledge of infectious disease, across the world, it remains a public health challenge. True to its founding values, Johnson & Johnson continues the fight epidemics in their many forms. Today, the company’s research centers largely on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The company is also quick to take action as new challenges arise. When an Ebola outbreak rocked the West African coast in 2014, Johnson & Johnson set to work. The company trained local medical workers to limit Ebola’s spread and began developing a vaccine at unprecedented speed. Johnson & Johnson launched a series of partnerships with respected research institutions across the globe to accelerate clinical testing of a vaccine regimen.

Health workers taking necessary precautions in an Ebola-contaminated laboratory.

Image courtesy: Randal J. Schoepp, Centers for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ebola became an epidemic because many communities did not have sterile medical facilities and their healthcare workers lacked the antiseptic supplies and training needed to practice sterile procedures. True to its founding mission, Johnson & Johnson continues to advance sterile surgery, bringing training and antiseptic supplies to communities in need worldwide. Through product donations, in-person and telemedicine training, Ethicon (a Johnson & Johnson operating company) has enabled surgeons to address previously untreatable conditions from virtually any location. Ethicon is also a leading manufacturer of cutting-edge surgical devices that speed up post-operative recoveries and improve patient outcomes in a variety of areas—from gallbladder removal to bariatric surgery to a partnership to help create the data-driven, robotic surgery of the future. Beyond Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson teams up with global non-profits and international organizations to improve surgical practices and bring lifesaving products, treatment, and training to communities around the world.

Image courtesy: A suite of Ethicon surgical devices that support minimally invasive procedures and speed up recovery time.

For over a century, Johnson & Johnson has worked to improve global public health. Through product innovation, scientific research, and consumer education, the company has pushed the field forward. Today, rapid technological advances allow Johnson & Johnson to reach more people and more communities than ever before to ensure that people all over the world can live healthier lives.



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