Earle Ensign Dickson was born October 10, 1892, in Grandview, Tennessee. He was the son of Richard Ensign Dickson and Minnie Augusta (Hester) Dickson. At the time of Earle's birth, his father was Principal of the Grandview Normal Institute. Richard Dickson and his family remained in Grandview until completion of the 1892-1893 school year, after which they moved to Philadelphia where Richard Dickson obtained his medical degree. In 1904, Richard established his medical practice in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where Earl Dickson graduated from high school in 1908. Earl continued his education at Amherst College for two years, then attended Yale University where he graduated in 1913. After graduation he attended the Lowell Textile School (Lowell, Massachusetts), completing his coursework there in 1914. Afterwards, he worked at the Edwards Manufacturing Company (Maine), the Lockwood Company (Maine), and the West Boylston Manufacturing Company (Massachusetts).
Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives.
E. E. Dickson began his professional career in earnest when he joined the Chicopee Manufacturing Company in 1916, a subsidiary of the Johnson & Johnson company. By 1917, he had become the plant’s assistant manager. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. entered World War I and Earl enlisted in the U.S. Army (Ambulance Corps). Only sixty days into his service, he was discharged and sent to the textile section of the Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C. He served as a textile expert researching airplane, balloon and gas mask fabrics. During the war he served in England to observing cloth manufacturing, and then France where he collected various fabrics used by the Allies and the enemy. His assignment completed at the end of the war, he returned to Johnson & Johnson, which was now the leading surgical supply house in the world.
Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives.
While working at the Bureau of Standards, E. E. Dickson met Josephine Frances Knight, a stenographer from Maine. They were married December 6, 1917. Two children were born to this union - Richard Paul Dickson (1918) and Robert Ensign Dickson (1920). In 1920, E. E. Dickson witnessed his wife repeatedly nicking and burning her fingers while working in the kitchen. Thinking the big gauze bandages and lengths of surgical tape were too clumsy for Josephine to treat her wounds her own, Earle placed a long strip of gauze lengthwise down the middle of surgical tape, creating a pre-made adhesive bandage. In Earle's absence, Josephine was now able to cut from the adhesive strip a bandage of any width for treating her wounds. By this time, Earl was working in Johnson & Johnson’s purchasing department as a cotton buyer. He mentioned his creation to fellow employees, and was encouraged to approach the company's upper management with the idea. It is said the Johnsons were not initially impressed, but then Earle demonstrated how he could easily apply the bandage to himself. The Johnsons determined the self-bandaging aspect of the bandage would be its key marketing feature, but what to call it? W. Johnson Kenyon, a superintendent of the mill in New Brunswick, is credited with coming up with “Band-Aid." The official name of the product became, "BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandage.”
Johnson & Johnson was already a popular manufacturer of large cotton and gauze bandages for hospitals and soldiers when E. E. Dickson disclosed his Band-Aid® idea. The original BAND-AID® product produced by Johnson & Johnson was handmade and identical in design to Earle's homemade version. It did not sell well. Only $3,000 in sales were realized in 1921. To overcome poor sales, Band-Aids® were distributed free to Boy Scout troops and butchers, ultimately sparking their wider use. By 1924, the Johnson & Johnson Company was using machines to manufacture pre-cut BAND-AIDS® of differing sizes. Innovations to the product continued -- aeration holes in 1928, mercurochrome pads in 1929, waterproof coating in 1931, “flesh-colored” bandages in 1934, elastic bandages in 1940, plastic bandages in 1951, sheer vinyl bandages in 1958, flexible fabric bandages in 1982, and glow in the dark bandages in 1991. To date, over one hundred billion BAND-AIDS® have been manufactured.
In 1925, E. E. Dickson organized Johnson & Johnson’s first hospital division, and then headed the division until his retirement in 1957. He was elected to the Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors in 1929, and named a company Vice President in 1932. E. E. Dickson’s hospital-related work extended beyond Johnson & Johnson. He served for three decades as a trustee of the Middlesex General Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, holding the office of President from 1944 to 1946. Beginning in 1927, he chaired various standing committees for the U.S. Bureau of Standards, working toward the improvement of surgical gauze and adhesive products. During his professional life he also enjoyed memberships at the Yale Club of New York and at the Union Club in New Brunswick. E. E. Dickson was still a member of the Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors when he died September 21, 1961. At the time of his death, the company’s annual revenue from BAND-AID® sales was $30 million. Earle is buried alongside Josephine at the Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick, New Jersey.
(Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives.