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It's hard to believe, but there are actually Americans alive today who made it through childhood without Band-Aids. But not many.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, actors Jimmy Stewart and Milton Berle and about 3 million others over 85 reached adolescence without access to the ubiquitous self-adhesive bandage, which Johnson & Johnson has been making since 1921.To bind up the wounds of a world full of bleeders, J&J has sold more than 205 billion Band-Aids of all shapes and colors, from "flesh colored" in 1934 to a glow-in-the-dark variety in 1991.

The New Brunswick, N.J., company, which over the years has been almost as aggressive in protecting its brand trademark from becoming a generic term as it has marketing its bandages, is celebrating the product's 75th anniversary with a promotional brochure on the history and how-tos of wound care.

Over the centuries, mankind has used substances ranging from lint to hot oil to plaster to treat and cover wounds. The practice of treating wounds with clean hands and boiled water was apparently first espoused by Hippocrates around 500 B.C., but it wasn't until the late 1800s that antiseptic and sterile dressings became common.

Gradually, it became accepted that covering wounds with a material that kept dirt and airborne infection out and kept the skin moist was most likely to promote healing.

Even then, though, keeping a bandage where it belonged was a matter of tying a knot or a cumbersome affair involving surgical adhesive tape, scissors and gauze.

All that changed because Josephine Dickson, the wife of a J&J cotton-plant worker named Earle Dickson, was a bit of a klutz in the kitchen. She cut herself with some regularity and frequently called upon her husband to assist with first aid.

Dickson started looking for a wound cover that could be more easily applied and soon conceived the notion of a self-sticking bandage.

He laid out a long strip of surgical adhesive sticky side up, then rolled up a pad of gauze, stuck it along the center of the tape and covered it all with textured cotton crinoline.

Thereafter, whenever Josephine suffered a mishap, she could cut a piece of the tape and gauze, peel off the crinoline and bandage herself.

After a brief home test of his concept, Dickson approached James W. Johnson, the company's president, with his idea, and the boss liked it. W. Johnson Kenyon, superintendent of the mill where Dickson worked, offered the "Band-Aid" name.

At first, the bandages were sold in 18-inch long strips that still had to be cut to length with scissors; it wasn't until the company started making pre-cut individual bandages in 1924 that sales really took off.

As a reward for his ingenuity, Dickson was elected to Johnson & Johnson's board of directors and made a vice president in 1932. Reportedly, the official histories don't mention if the former millworker-turned-executive ever hired a cook for his scarred bride, but at least she presumably never wanted for bandages.

Today, J&J surveys indicate most often adults still need a bandage - usually on a finger - for injuries sustained in the kitchen or doing yardwork; and kids are most likely to have them applied for a cut or scrape on the knee.

By the time today's kids are adults, cloth and plastic may have been supplanted by new synthetic materials, including bio-engineered artificial skin containing living cells and gene-based therapy to hasten healing that might be added to gauze to make the scrape on a child's knee disappear between morning and dinnertime.