If you’ve ever caulked your bathroom with DAP, worn a pair of Teva sandals, or used California Paints, you can thank Willard Morrison for their ability to curb microbes like bacteria and mold. That’s because Morrison developed the technology to incorporate antimicrobial agents right into the products. Known as Microban, the technology can be engineered into materials like textiles, polymers, and adhesives; it is used in hundreds of consumer, medical, and industrial goods worldwide.
Morrison got the idea for Microban in the late 1960s when he was developing new consumer products from aluminum foil at R. J. Reynolds in North Carolina. Some local physicians asked him to help them devise a way to reduce the risk of infection from medical equipment. He came up with the notion of adding antimicrobial agents to plastic resins before they were molded, resulting in plastics that would kill bacteria. Armed with his idea and a small sum of money, he founded Microban Products. From there, Morrison says modestly, “it was just sort of like Topsy–it just grew.”
Microban penetrates the cell wall of microbes and disrupts their ability to function, reproduce, or grow. Because it is incorporated into the molecular structure of a material, it doesn’t wash off or wear out. It isn’t designed to protect people from disease, but it deters the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew, which can cause odors, stains, and product deterioration.
With some prodding, Morrison will admit that he’s been a bit of an idea man all his life. Before joining R. J. Reynolds, he developed consumer products at Montgomery Ward and West Bend Aluminum Company (where he invented the trigger-handle teapot), garnering a number of patents along the way. He credits his father, a prolific inventor, with his own career direction. “He was second only to Thomas Edison in the number of granted patents in the United States at the time that he passed away,” Morrison says proudly.
Morrison has a lot to be proud of, too. Although he retired in 1987, he still consults for Microban Products. Microban, which is now incorporated into more than 450 products, has been licensed by Johnson and Johnson, Rubbermaid, and other Fortune 500 companies.