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