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Robert G. Rothfuss Collection

Identifier: WC-RR-2015

Scope and Content

The Robert G. Rothfuss collection occupies 2 linear feet and consists of 13 file folders and 12 individually numbered pieces of realia. The subject matter of the collection centers on the auto-suture devices and surgical stapling techniques. The collection spans the years 1986 to 2001, with the bulk of the material dating from 1986 to 1989.


  • 1986-2001
  • Majority of material found within 1986-1989


Language of Materials

The records are in English

Biography of Ethicon Industries

Although ETHICON Suture Laboratories was "born" (incorporated) on August 11, 1949, the company traces its history 62 years further back to 1887 when the two Johnson brothers, Robert Wood and James W., their nascent pharmaceutical company only a year old, added "Absorbent and Antiseptic Ligatures, etc." to their assorted product line of plasters, gauze bandages, absorbent cotton, dental creams.

At the time, the suture line consisted of eight items; four made of catgut and four made of silk; all packaged in an oil base. The Johnson brothers moved aggressively into their new line of ligature products beginning what continues to this day as a tradition of innovation. Only a year later, the company offered new packaging consisting of sutures wound on three separate spools immersed in a glass jar of antiseptic solution. In the days of the horse and buggy doctor this new packaging was truly an innovation. Surgeons could now draw any size or length suture material required directly from the antiseptic solution.

By 1890, the Johnson & Johnson ligature line had been expanded to include nine catgut, 21 silk items and another innovation, silkworm gut. In 1892, silver wire was introduced. By 1905, sutures and ligatures were manufactured in catgut, silk, silkworm gut, horsehair, cargile membrane, umbilical tape and (our favorite) kangaroo tendon. Materials were packaged raw in both "breakable and openable" tubes, on cards, in silk cases and in "Triple Germ-Proof Envelopes." That was also the year J&J combined its operation with that of another suture manufacturer, J. Elwood Lee Company. Oddly enough, the other major product that company manufactured was "fine" automobile tires.

In 1928, the word "ETHICON" first appeared as the name for a new, non-boilable catgut the first sales of which were made to Middlesex General Hospital in New Brunswick. ETHICON became a trademark in 1930 but did not appear with any regularity until 1942. By the late 1930's, J&J had established a special sales force to call on hospitals exclusively to sell dressings and sutures. It was about this time that sutures were included in the U.S. Pharmacopeia for the first time. Several leading suture manufacturers lost their market position because their products didn't meet USP requirements, giving J&J an opportunity to play a more dominant role in the industry. Two modern new laboratories were built in Chicago and New Brunswick in 1941. In 1944, ETHICON Suture Laboratories was established as a separate division of J&J. War Launches Decades Of Expansion World War II brought vastly increased demands for new and larger quantities of sutures. To meet this challenge ETHICON came out with new sutures made of surgical gut, cotton, nylon, linen, metallic wire and a new suture material made from polyester fibers. In 1953, four years after its incorporation, the name was changed from ETHICON Suture Laboratories to ETHICON, INC.

The fifties and sixties were a time of rapid expansion. ETHICON soon outgrew its plant in New Brunswick and moved into new facilities in Somerville, NJ in 1956. Another manufacturing plant was opened in San Angelo, Tx in 1964. ETHICON, INC. entered the mechanical wound closure market in 1978 with the release of the first PROXIMATE disposable skin stapler. The acceptance of the stapling concept led to the creation of the Mechanical Products Division in 1983 to provide surgeons with innovative new stapling products. The Cincinnati based Senmed company was acquired in 1986 to expand the development and manufacturing capability of stapling products.

Newly identified opportunities in endosurgery and mechanical devices as well as the continued growth in sutures led to the split of the company in 1992 into ETHICON Endo-Surgery headquartered in Cincinnati and ETHICON, INC. headquartered in Somerville, New Jersey. Based in Westwood, Ma., MITEK Surgical Products, manufacturers of suture anchors to attach soft tissue to bone, became part of Johnson & Johnson in 1995. The following year sales of MITEK products were included with those of ETHICON.

In 1997, the surgical Specialty Division of Johnson & Johnson Medical Inc. joined ETHICON. Now called GYNECARE Products, the company is a leading manufacturer of products for women's health and has facilities in Somerville, NJ, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale, Ca., Gurabo, Puerto Rico and Athens, Ga. One wonders if 112 years ago, when the Johnson brothers added "Absorbent and Antiseptic Ligatures" to their product line, they ever imagined that it would grow into the world's leading supplier of wound closure products with more than 2,500 needle-suture combinations for essentially all surgical procedures. A high percentage of accepted suture products and improved techniques available today have been ETHICON innovations, the result of long and painstaking research, careful evaluation and a business philosophy of ever increasing service to hospitals and surgeons. Today, ETHICON is the international leader in the suture industry and offers quality products in areas such as soft tissue repair, women's health and cardiovascular products, as well.

Source: "Ethicon, Inc. - Yesterday and Today", Toledo News, January 5, 2007


2 Linear Feet


A collection of published materials on or relating to surgical stapling techniques and a collection of early surgical stapling instruments.

Statement of Arrangement

The arrangement of the publications and realia adhere to the original order or grouping of the collection.

Guide to the Robert G. Rothfuss Collection
Edited Full Draft
Finding aid prepared by Veronica Buchanan
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the University of Cincinnati, Health Sciences Library, Henry R. Winkler Center for the History of the Health Professions Repository

Donald C. Harrison Health Sciences Library
231 Albert Sabin Way
Cincinnati Ohio 45267-0574