From Adhesive Plasters to My Little Pony: The Disposable Bandage in America

Check your medicine cabinet. Chances are there is at least one box of disposable adhesive bandages (more if you are a parent or accident-prone). Even though recent sales figures show the box is most-likely from a private label (or generic) brand, BAND-AID® Brand has become synonymous with home wound care. The product’s popularity has even bled into our language as a verb (def. bandaid: ‘to apply a makeshift or temporary solution to (a problem, etc.).’ BAND-AID® Brand is so successful that they are now facing “genericide,” or losing their trademark to the popular usage of their name (just like “cellophane” and “escalator”).

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My Little Pony Sterile Adhesive Bandages (walmart.com)

Much of the brand’s success can be credited to strategic marketing campaigns from its beginnings in 1920. Nearly everyone, regardless of gender, class, ethnicity, or color, uses disposable adhesive bandages. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of print and television advertisements in the early decades of the brand not only featured but were expressly marketed to suburban white mothers.

 

Since the 1950s, advertisements and packaging are designed to appeal to the number one user (but not purchaser) of the product. For American children, adhesive bandages are equal parts panacea, war story, and fashion statement. Most parents have put bandages on a range of boo-boos, from cuts and scrapes to bruises and imaginary (albeit extremely painful and life threatening) flesh wounds. Children use adhesive bandages as storytelling devices. It makes them feel special. Bandages and more specifically BAND-AIDs have developed into more than first-aid. To children under 10 years old, the product has important emotional and almost supernatural healing abilities.

This exhibition explores wound treatment throughout history, from ancient treatments to ready-made first-aid adhesive bandages. The second half of the exhibition looks at the marketing of bandages and investigates how the simple strip of plastic and cotton became childhood staple.

 

 

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Top image: A man wearing an adhesive wound bandage. Detail of: The Beheading of John the Baptist by Meister von Freising-Neustift, c.1490 (Wikimedia Commons)
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