Smith & Nephew – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 17

What is Smith & Nephew?

Smith & Nephew are a company who manufactures medical equipment. Their headquarters are based in Watford. Learn more about the origins of the humble sticking plaster.

The Beginning

In 1836, Thomas James Smith opened a dispensing chemist’s shop on North Churchside in Hull’s old town area when he was 30 years old. He described himself as an ‘Analytical and Pharmaceutical Chemist’.

Smith was a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. This was formed 15 years earlier.

He had a great interest in the curative properties of medicine. Smith was also a wholesale supplier of cod liver oil.

By 1875, Smith was selling over £3,000 worth of cod liver oil. He supplied major hospitals such as Guys and Great Ormand Street.

Smith created an original refining and blending process. This was to ensure his cod liver oil was of the highest quality.

His high standards helped him win a medal. In 1883, he won the gold medal at the International Fisheries Exhibition.

In 1896, Smith was nearing his 70th birthday. This was when his health deteriorated and he realised he could no longer run the business on his own.

Thomas took on his nephew. They called him Horatio Nelson Smith who, at the time, was 22 years old.

He decided to rename the company T J Smith & Nephew three months before his death. Smith left his share of the business to his sister Amelia Ann.

View from the outside of a Smith and Nephew property, Photo credit, Ian S, Geograph, Creative Commons
View from the outside of a Smith and Nephew property, Photo credit, Ian S, Geograph, Creative Commons

A few years later, Amelia Ann did not want to be part of the business. She transferred her share to Horatio for an annuity of £260.

By the beginning of the new century, Horatio became sole owner of the business.

Before Horatio joined his uncle, he worked in the textile industry. He then brought this knowledge to the pharmaceutical industry.

Horatio bought a machine from Germany. He could now cut and roll bandages.

To further expand the business, Horatio travelled to North America. In 1906, he won a contract to supply bandages to Canadian hospitals.

By the following year, the business had become a limited company. It was now called Smith & Nephew Ltd.

They moved to a larger premises after becoming a limited company. Now they were located at 5 Neptune Street in the dockside area of the city.

By 1912, the company expanded further. They bought a sanitary towel manufacturers and supplied bandages to the Turks in their war with Italy.

Becoming what it is today

The company greatly expanded during the First World War. The demand grew for their bandages.

They opened a new manufacturing plant in Canada. Also, they cut out the middle man and bought their own textile mill in Lancashire.

During the war, their workforce expanded. Before the war it was 50, then it went to over 1,200.

When the war ended, so did the demand for their products. Their workforce went down to less than 200.

Horatio was not deterred. He focused on the overseas market.

This caused him to open the first independent overseas branch of Smith & Nephew. It opened in Canada in 1921.

The year of 1924 really boost the company’s fortunes. The British government passed an Act calling for the provision of First Aid equipment in commercial premises.

Smith & Nephew started to produce their own range of First Aid Kits. This included a range of commercially produced plaster of Paris.

The company received their biggest break in 1928. Horatio bought into a development.

It was a process for creating elastic adhesive fabric. This would revolutionise treatment of varicose ulcers and become one of the world’s leading support bandages.

Elastoplast was extremely successful. It remained a trademark of Smith & Nephew.

It has even become a generic term for a sticking plaster in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This is similar to its main rival Band Aid in the US.

By 1937, they formed a new public company called Smith & Nephew Associated Companies Ltd. It concentrated on product development, manufacture and supply.

The government called on Smith & Nephew again during the Second World War. They were to supply the troops with sufficient supplies of bandages.

After the war, the company began a programme to modernise the business. This is due to the demand for Elastoplast.

During the second half of the Twentieth Century the company acquired a number of global pharmaceutical and specialist medical companies.

Today, they are a major world for for research and development in several areas. These include wound management, orthopaedics, trauma products, clinical therapy and minimal invasive surgery.

The business is consistently listed in the FTSE 100 top listed companies on the London Stock Exchange. It remains one of the largest firms to come out of Yorkshire.

In 2009, they opened a new factory in China. Some of their production is now being relocated there.

People who travel down the Clive Sullivan Way regularly will know that the company is still very much present along the banks of the Humber Estuary. There is now a centre for the research and development of their new products.