Cellucotton

Cellucotton is the raw material used to make bandages, tissues, sanitary napkins, and tampons.

In 1886, Johnson & Johnson introduced predecessor product “Lister’s Towels,” the first disposable menstrual product, sold primarily in Europe.

Eventually, Kimberly-Clark (“K-C”) invented “Cellucotton” ー a highly absorbent wood-pulp by-product ー as a bandage for WWI. No sooner did the WWI nurses receive the new bandage material than the French realized its utility for menstruation. Eventually, nurses brought cellucotton from Europe to the US after the war. In 1919, years after its invention, Kimberly-Clark patented cellucotton.

After the war Kimberly-Clark created the Kotex brand and released the first sanitary napkin advertisement, in January 1921. Kimberly-Clark created a wholly owned subsidiary, the “International Cellucotton Products Company”. The paper company hid its ties to feminine hygiene products for decades.

Initially, Kotex pads did not sell well. Eventually, advertising legend Albert Lasker created the idea of allowing women to pay for Kotex by putting money in a box to avoid embarrassing interactions with store clerks, who were often men. Afterward, Lasker also created teaching schoolgirls about menstruation in school and coined the term “sanitary napkins.” He later worked with Kimberly-Clark to launch Kleenex disposable tissues.

Aspirin

1899

Arthur Eichengrün
Felix Hoffman

Aspirin is often referred to as a miracle drug. The inexpensive medicine relieves pain without addiction, reduces fever, and even helps prevent heart attack. There is some evidence Aspirin even prevents cancer.

Aspirin is the distilled and purified version of medicine known since ancient times. Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic Oath, noted that willow leave and bark relieve pain and fever. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin, is especially plentiful in willow tree bark.

Low cost, non-addictive aspirin started as an alternative to opioids for pain relief. In the 18th and early 19th century, opioids were available without prescription and addiction was rampant.

Early versions of pure salicylic acid were unsuccessful. The acid was too harsh on the stomach without further refinement and the proposed dosages were far too high.

Hoffman is widely credited with creating modern Aspirin due to a footnote in a German encyclopedia published in 1934.

Looking back over lab notes, historians believe Eichengrün, Hoffman’s lab assistant, is the true inventor. However, Eichengrün was Jewish and Bayer a German company. Nazi’s likely revised the history in their attempt to wipe out not only Jewish people but also Jewish achievement. Hoffman was also the inventor of heroin.

Interestingly, Bayer was originally a dye manufacturer. Aspirin was one of the first pharmaceuticals. One reason that Aspirin was so successful, besides that it worked, was Bayer’s history as a consumer marketing company. The company had a well-known brand name, reach into the consumer market channels, and B2C expertise. At one point, Bayer market aspirin, heroin, and cocaine as effective over-the-counter medicines.

Related image
Early Bayer advertisement

By 1950, Aspirin became the most widely sold painkiller in the world. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists began to figure out why the drug actually worked. Despite the age and popularity of the medicine, it remains one of the most widely studied drugs with evermore uses.

X-Ray Imaging

In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen noticed that electromagnetic radiation would expose bone structure under certain conditions. He invented the medical X-Ray machine. For his invention, Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, and several other illustrious awards. Due to WWI, companies were forbidden from paying the German royalties and his savings were destroyed by post-war hyperinflation. Röntgen died bankrupt despite the enormous impact of his work. However, General Electric used the technology to build a thriving medical imaging business that still exists.

Even high-quality modern sources wrongly attribute the X-Ray tube to prolific GE inventor Elihu Thomson. However, Thomson’s own papers make few mentions of x-rays. His only dated lab journal entry, Feb. 26, 1896, references “X-rays of Röntgen.”

Thomson’s earliest patent involving x-rays has a priority date of Feb. 14, 1898, three years after Roentgen’s work. The entry is titled “Roentgen-ray tube.”

It seems likely that Thomson may have, at most, invented a better (or at least different) x-ray generation tube.

Thomson came to GE after Edison General Electric Company acquired the Thomson-Houston Electric company in 1892, renaming itself the General Electric Company. He refused to move his laboratory from Massachusetts to GE headquarters in NY and also refused a management position.

Thomson has countless other legitimate innovations, with over 700 patents.

Immunotherapy

It’s common for meaningful inventions to take years or even decades to reach their commercial potential. At about 110 years from discovery to practical use, immunotherapy is the second longest invention we’ve found after the Suez Canal.

Immunotherapy is the process of training the body’s natural immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells. The idea dates back to Dr. William Coley, in 1891. He noticed that some patients, after suffering infections, had cancer tumors disappear. Accordingly, Dr. Coley theorized there was a switch in the body that turned on to fight the tumors.

No sooner had Dr. Coley focused on immunotherapy than other physicians simultaneously fixated on radiation which became a more mainstream approach by burning tumors away. Next came chemotherapy, using drugs to eat away tumors. A small number of researchers continued studying immunotherapy but, at any rate, it fell out of favor in the mainstream.

Contrarily, immunotherapy did not gain traction for well over 100 years. However, as of 2018, genetically targeted immunotherapy drugs are among the most effective cancer fighters. Drs. Beutler and Hoffmann rediscovered and explained how the latent immune system can attack and destroy cancers, winning them the Nobel Prize in 2011.

Significantly, immunotherapy is early in development. It is suitable only for a small number of cancers. However, when it works immunotherapy tends to be much more effective than either radiation or chemotherapy. Patients report they can literally see tumors melting away.

Eventually, as genetic sequencing and manipulation progress immunotherapy is likely to eventually revolutionize oncology.

Surgical Disinfectant

Surgical disinfectant vastly reduces the risk of infection and subsequent disease and death.

Lister, building on the work of Pasteur and Semmelweis, insisted that surgery and surgical equipment be cleaned with carbolic acid, an early attempt at sterilization.

Before Lister, surgeons would not change their clothes: more blood showed more experience.

Semmelweis advanced similar ideas, showing a correlation between clean hands and a lower infant mortality rate after childbirth. Doctors at the time sneered and laughed at him.

Both Lister and Pasteur also suffered from ignoramuses who did not understand their work.

Lister’s ideas eventually gained acceptance and he became a famous surgeon, with hundreds coming to his lectures. He did not try to commercialize his work beyond academic and medical progress though.

Both Listerine and Listeria are named after Lister though there is no real link.

Surgical Anesthesia

Anesthesia enables modern surgery, reducing pain and risk. Before anesthesia, patients were held down and surgeons would have to operate quickly. Amputations were common because surgeons did not have the time to do more complicated work before a patient went into shock from the pain.

Ether is the first anesthesia. William Morton, a dentist, is the first to document its use. Doctors considered Morton’s field, dentistry, lower status. Therefore, doctors Charles Jackson and Horace Wells claimed to have used ether first, without demonstrating it to others.

Historians today widely agree they plagiarized Morton’s work and that their claims are without merit. Because surgeries without anesthesia with so terrible any doctor would have immediately announced the breakthrough, as Morton did.

Despite the groundbreaking work, Morton declared bankruptcy in 1863 and died 17 years later.

Vaccines (Smallpox)

Smallpox was a killer, affecting royalty and peasants alike. When it didn’t kill, it oftentimes left victims permanently maimed. Besides eventually eradicating smallpox, this vaccine led to the development of future ones.

Background

Jenner was born to a wealthy and well-educated family. Like many during his time, he was inoculated for smallpox, a process where a small amount of smallpox scar tissue is put into the upper skin of a person. This process was often either ineffective or, more commonly, caused a mild or full-blown case of smallpox.

Catherine the Great, Tzarina of Russia, famously had herself, her court, and many of her subjects inoculated against smallpox in 1762. Because smallpox killed about 10 percent of the population at this time and maimed countless more, inoculation was considered a reasonable risk.

Vaccine Insight

Jenner realized that people who had suffered cowpox, a similar disease caught from cows, never died and only suffered a mild disease. He theorized that cowpox would bring on smallpox immunity with no chance of suffering smallpox itself. When a milkmaid presented suffering cowpox, he tested his theory by taking an amount from her scar and purposefully infecting his gardener’s son. Later he would inoculate the boy with smallpox and observe the child had none of the normal side effects.

Jenner then purposefully infected the child with smallpox and observed the boy was entirely immune. From this, he gathered that cowpox immunizes against smallpox with no risk of developing smallpox.

Jenner publicized his findings in 1798. He named his process “vaccination” after the Latin name for cow, Vacca: vaccine referred to the medicine. Jenner received countless awards from around both Great Britain and the world. The British government awarded him £10,000 in 1802 and another £20,000 in 1807.

Louis Pasteur would later go on to create a vaccine for anthrax.

Inoculation dates to about 1000 BCE from China.