130 years of history on display at Johnson & Johnson

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Johnson & Johnson has been a household name for more than 100 years and a part of the New Brunswick community since its inception.

“We were founded to help make surgery sterile. Johnson & Johnson made the first mass produced sterile surgical dressings and the first mass produced sterile sutures to save the lives of surgery patients in American hospitals,” said Margaret Gurowitz, Johnson & Johnson’s chief historian.

Founded by three brothers in 1886, Johnson & Johnson started with just 14 employees and women outnumbered men eight to six. So how did the Johnsons’ discover New Brunswick?

“The Johnson family was originally from Pennsylvania, but in January of 1886 James Wood Johnson was on a train going from New York to Philadelphia thinking about where he and his brothers wanted to start their new business. The train stopped in New Brunswick and he looked out the window saw a small little four story brick building with a for rent sign on it and that’s how we got to New Brunswick,” Gurowitz said.

More than 130 years later, the company history is now on display at the “Our Story at the Powerhouse.” It’s located in the last remaining building from Johnson & Johnson’s earliest historic footprint, says Gurowitz. It’s full of historic household items that are still found in homes across the country, like the Band-Aid.

“The Band-Aid Brand adhesive bandages were invented in New Brunswick by a Johnson & Johnson employee named Earle Dickson. He was a cotton buyer for the company,” said Gurowitz.

Earle’s wife kept cutting and burning her fingers while cooking in the kitchen, so he got the idea to use surgical adhesive tape, gauze and fabric, said Gurowitz

“In 1921, Johnson & Johnson put it on the market as Band-Aid Brand adhesive bandages. It was the first pre-made adhesive bandage for small wounds. It was the first product of its kind and it was such a new concept that Johnson & Johnson had to show the public how to use it,” Gurowitz said.

There are more than 19,000 artifacts in the collection. That includes what’s on display here in the museum along with pieces that are in the company’s archives. Where did all these items come from? Johnson & Johnson has had a collection for over 100 years, and people also donated vintage artifacts.

Before women gave birth in hospitals, they delivered in their homes, often without proper medical supplies, says Margaret.

“In 1894, seeing a great need, Johnson & Johnson collaborated with a leading obstetrician of the day to put on the market maternity kits that was everything in a box that the birth attendants would need to ensure safe delivery for the mother and baby,” said Gurowitz.

Many of us have used one of these at some point: A First Aid kit.

“Johnson & Johnson invented the first commercial First Aid kits in 1888 originally to treat injured railroad workers,” Gurowitz said.

The museum is open to Johnson & Johnson employees, retirees and their guests. Gurowitz looks forward to adding to the collection.

“I think that if we can fast forward 100 years into the future there will be innovations here we cannot even begin to imagine today,” she said.