Cost benefit analysis for hand washing and drying involves minimizing bacteria

Creative Destruction: Purell’s Story

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 15, 2013    •    692 Views

Blowing out candles on birthday cakes has been banned in Australian childcare centers. The reason is the germs. Also, kids are required to wash their hands before going in the sandbox. Really. The rule comes from Australia’s Health Minister.

In the US, I guess that we do have a similar germaphobe state of mind. One reason might be the alcohol-based hand cleaner, Purell.

Made by Gojo Industries, Purell was invented 1988. At first, only auto mechanics used it to remove stubborn grease stains. Next, Wegman’s supermarket chain recognized its potential when they offered Purell to employees. Gojo hit the jackpot, though, when it targeted health care workers.

As an innovation, Purell’s trajectory is typical. At first, its use was limited but then it became more popular. Recommended by hospitals, adopted by the military with a bottle designed to survive a parachute jump, place by place, Purell infiltrated our culture. And now, in wall dispensers and in our pockets, it is everywhere.

Explaining “creative destruction,” economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) said that economic growth depends on the pain of old industries dying and new ones taking their place. For Purell, we could site a ripple that initially affected soap purveyors like Proctor & Gamble. But then, the germaphobe mindset moves us to all activities and objects that might increase contact with germs, including birthday candles and cakes.

Far beyond economics, Purell is all about creative destruction.

Sources and Resources: My interest in Purell started with a New Yorker article from David Owen  and continued with these Daily Mail details about the Australian birthday cake directive.

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