Abstract: Fighting the Good Fight: Johnson & Johnson and the Origins of Duct Tape

Tisha Hooks


Duct tape is a technology that emerged out of the unreserved engagement in military research and development demanded by World War II. Although seemingly low-tech and lowbrow in comparison to yet another product of military R & D, the World Wide Web, duct tape too has come to enjoy a kind of heroic, and perhaps even more pervasive presence in American life. This is particularly true after having been touted by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in 2003 as a key tool for everyday Americans wanting to construct their own defense against potential dirty bombs. Most discussions of the origins of this technology start and stop at the mention of Johnson & Johnson, the company believed to be its original developers. In this paper, I argue that Johnson & Johnson's own history, and indeed, the historical moment in which the company was established, are in themselves key components/manifestations of the mythology of duct tape as a technology that heals and preserves the individual, the machine, and even the state in the midst of the crises of war.