HARTMANN in South Africa
Company > History > Three pioneers, one vision

Three pioneers, one vision

Right from the beginning, Paul Hartmann Sr. focused on maintaining close contact with leading researchers and physicians whose advice and experience he applied to the development of new dressing materials. His contact with two persons is of particular note: Sir Joseph Lister who invented the antiseptic wound dressing, the Lister carbolic gauze, and Victor von Bruns who succeeded in removing grease from cotton wool so it could better absorb liquid.

The wound care methods of the 19th century were still very traditional despite much progress in the natural sciences. Oxygen, for example, was considered to have a negative effect, and therapies such as bloodletting were still employed. Frequent dressing changes were common. This, however, did not relieve pain for patients - rather the opposite. There was, however, a significant change in the 1860s. The inventions by Sir Joseph Lister and Victor von Bruns finally made it possible to use dressing materials effectively and also to manufacture them on an industrial scale - to the benefit of many patients.

Paul Hartmann Sr. (1812-1884)

After completion of his education, he entered his father’s business, the Ludwig Hartmann Company in 1838, which was handed over by the latter to his three sons Paul, Carl and Eduard and renamed "Ludwig Hartmanns Söhne" (Ludwig Hartmann’s sons) in 1843. Paul Hartmann took over the cotton-spinning mill in Heideneim.
The acquisition of the “Scheckenbleiche” (bleaching plant) at his own account in 1867 enabled him to set up an own independent company, the firm „Paul Hartmann - Bleiche, Färbereigeschäft und Appreturanstalt" (bleaching, dyeing and finishing company). That acquisition would turn out to be a clever move soon.

It was already in 1873 that Paul Hartmann started the systematic production of absorbent cotton wool whose high potential he had recognized fast. That year is also described as the official foundation date of the Paul Hartmann dressing material factory.

From that year on, the surgical dressing company has continuously developed. Paul Hartmann Sr. said, that for him work was not a burden but rather belonged to the „necessities of life“. In this manner, he made very courageous entrepreneureal decisions and worked with modern methods already at that time. The further successful rise of his company can probably be contributed to those particular personal characteristics.

Sir Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

Until Sir Joseph Lister’s epoch-making invention in the 1870’s, hardly any effective methods of controlling the various wound diseases were available to physicians so that a fast amputation of the affected members often was the only choice of methods. Then Louis Pasteur was the first to recognize the danger of infection coming from the air. He proved that microorganisms present in the air cause fermentation and decomposition.

Recourse to Pasteur: air responsible for dangerous microbes

The discovery of the antiseptic wound dressing was however not made over night. In 1865, Thomas Anderson, a chemistry professor, informed Lister about the research results of Louis Pasteur. Now Lister looked for a chemical pathway to kill the microbes that affect the wound healing process. After several experiments he discovered that carbolic acid was a suitable disinfecting agent. He began soaking dressings in carbolic acid.

Paul Hartmann Sr. does business with Sir Joseph Lister

To promote the widespread use of the new wound dressing, especially cost-effective production of the carbolated gauze was important to Lister. Therefore he willingly answered an enquiry from Paul Hartmann Sr. from Heidenheim, Germany, and provided detailed instructions in his letter of April 27, 1874.  Thus it was possible to start the production of the novel bandage material already in the fall of the same year.

Belated recognition: “The greatest turn in the history of surgery"

Lister's dressing method had already been accepted in Europe around 1880 so that in 1881 the eminent surgeon Richard von Volkmann, from Halle in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, referred to Lister’s achievement as the “greatest turn in the history of surgery“ to the applause of all participants at the “International Medical Congress” in London.

Victor von Bruns (1812-1883)

For centuries, the wax-pectin layer, which surrounds the raw cotton fibers, prevented an effective use of this material in wound treatment. This coating is water-repellent and accordingly reduces the water binding capacity. Thus unraveled lint from linen cloths was preferably used in wound treatment.

Raw cotton had a negative effect in wound treatment

The surgery professor Victor von Bruns from Tübingen, Germany, determined two great disadvantages with raw cotton which had prevented its widespread use in surgery until then. On the one hand, the fine cotton fibers sticking lightly to suppurating wounds made dressing change much more difficult. The fine scab tore off, the patient was in pain. Victor von Bruns improved the procedure by laying a dressing or piece of gauze with a window over the suppurating area, “thus preventing sticking with this intermediate layer“. In addition, the deficient absorption capacity of the raw cotton had a negative effect.

At the beginning of the 1860’s, he finally succeeded in degreasing raw cotton by boiling the starting material in a sodium carbonate solution. With the degreased cotton surgeons were now able to use cotton in the wound under perfectly hygienic conditions. Secretions and water were now taken up with the new bandage material without any problems.

"According to Prof. Dr. von Bruns" becomes a mark of top quality

In 1871, the young Swiss industrialist Heinrich Theophil Baeschlin used raw cotton to make hydrophilic cotton wool dressing for the first time worldwide.
Thus the plan to found an international company, the “Fabrik medizinischer Verbandstoffe“ (Medicinal Bandage Material Factory) matured. This in turn is the predecessor of our Swiss subsidiary IVF-HARTMANN in Neuhausen.
In Germany, Paul Hartmann commenced the industrial production of cotton wool dressings in 1873. It became an important pillar in the HARTMANN product range.