The History of the Band-Aid

Girl with bandage on thumb
Charriau Pierre/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

Band-Aid is the trademarked name for bandages sold by the American pharmaceutical and medical devices giant Johnson & Johnson Company, though these popular medical bandages have become a household name since their invention in 1921 by cotton buyer Earle Dickson.

Originally created as a means to treat small wounds more easily with bandages that could be self-applied and were durable enough to withstand the day-to-day activities of most people, this invention has remained relatively unchanged in its nearly 100-year history.

However, market sales for the first line of commercially produced Band-Aids weren't doing so well, so in the 1950s, Johnson & Johnson began marketing a number of decorative Band-Aids with such childhood icons as Mickey Mouse and Superman on them. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson began donating free band-aids to Boy Scout troops and overseas military personnel to better their brand image. 

A Household Invention By Earle Dickson

Earle Dickson was employed as a cotton buyer for the Johnson & Johnson when he invented the band-aid in 1921 for his wife Josephine Dickson, who was always cutting her fingers in the kitchen while preparing food.

At that time a bandage consisted of separate gauze and adhesive tape that you would cut to size and apply yourself, but Earle Dickson noticed that gauze and adhesive tape she used would soon fall off her active fingers, and he decided to invent something that would stay in place and protect small wounds better.

Earle Dickson took a piece of gauze and attached it to the center of a piece of tape then covered the product with crinoline to keep it sterile. This ready-to-go product allowed his wife to dress her wounds without assistance, and when Earle's boss James Johnson saw the invention, he decided to manufacture band-aids to the public and make Earle Dickson vice-president of the company.

Marketing and Promotion of the Band-Aid Brand

Sales of Band-Aids were slow until Johnson & Johnson decided to give Boy Scout troops free Band-Aids as a publicity stunt. Since then, the company has dedicated a lot of its financial resources and marketing campaigns to charity work associated with the health and human services fields.

Although the product itself has remained relatively unchanged throughout the years, its history still came with a few big milestones including the introduction of machine-made band-aids in 1924, the sale of sterilized band-aids in 1939, and the replacement of regular tape with vinyl tape in 1958, all of which were marketed as the latest in at-home medical care.

The long-time slogan of Band-Aid, especially since it began marketing to children and parents in the mid-1950s, is "I am stuck on Band-Aid brand 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me!" and indicates a family-friendly value that Johnson & Johnson is known for. In 1951, Band-Aid's introduced the first decorative band-aids which featured the cartoon character Mickey Mouse in the hope they'd appeal to children.