In May 1889, Johns Hopkins Hospital first opened its doors. Dr. William Stewart Halstead, who had a number of medical and surgical achievements, was the first surgeon in chief and one of four founding physicians, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. These achievements included new operations for hernia repair and gallstone removal, among others. Also, Halstead was known for precision and cleanliness, which is why it is no surprise history credits him with developing the first surgical glove.
“The early history of disposable gloves stems from the medical industry.”
After his nurse, and later wife, Caroline Hampton said the chemicals she handled for surgery gave her a rash, Halstead reached out to the Goodyear Rubber Co. to create rubber gloves for her hands. Hampton loved the gloves, and more pairs arrived. Not long after, Halstead’s entire surgical staff wore them during operations. At the time, they assumed the primary benefit was increased dexterity and gave little thought to hygiene.
Joseph Lister, the first surgeon to sterilize his surgical tools and dressings, was responsible for making surgical gloves sterile. In 1894, about 50 percent of all surgical patients died. Many of these fatalities were due to the fact that surgeons did not wash their hands between surgeries and examinations, thereby passing pathogens between patients.
Lister used carbolic acid to sterilize his instruments, according to BBC News. This action would be the founding of antiseptic surgery and the inspiration for the development of Listerine by Joseph Lawrence.
The Ansell Rubber Co. Pty. Ltd. ramped up its funding for surgical glove research in 1941. In 1965, Ansell developed the first disposable medical gloves. The manufacturer sterilized the gloves using gamma irradiation.
In March 1992, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) published its Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Around this time, there was increased awareness regarding HIV, and OHSA implemented the rule to protect workers who would come in contact with bodily fluids. OSHA’s standard required employers to provide personal protective equipment, including disposable gloves, to these workers.
The administration still requires gloves be worn in many applications, such as phlebotomies.
“Nitrile gloves first arrived on the market in the mid-1990s.”
During this time, nitrile disposable gloves first appeared on the market. These gloves, which come from acrylonitrile and butadiene monomers, provide more chemical resistance than latex gloves. Additionally, the gloves were perfect for wearers who had latex allergies and in medical settings where patients could have allergies.
According to Health & Safety International magazine, many manufacturers began working with nitrile after it became clear the material was useful in medical applications. Despite the fact nitrile could be used more often than latex, the synthetic rubber did not serve as a replacement for its predecessor. Rather, it was a product aimed at another market need: chemical resistance.
Disposable gloves were born in the medical industry, and much of the innovation resulted from needs in exam applications. However, in more recent years, attention has shifted to safety uses for disposable gloves, such as automotive, food service and processing, and janitorial-sanitation.
In fact, the industrial market is the fastest growth sector for disposable glove usage. For example, in 2012, this market had the same glove revenue as the medical industry, with most of that revenue coming from nitrile gloves.