As part of our project on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, this week we will take a look at some lesser-known but important things that came out of the myriad programs that were created and legislation that passed. Many of them are things that most of us now take for granted. Each day this week we'll highlight one thing.
Child-resistant caps for pill bottles
Johnson needed to reach Joseph Califano Jr., his special assistant for domestic affairs, but could not. Califano wasn't in the office. No one was picking up the phone at his house. Finally, someone discovered that Califano was at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington with his young son, who had just had an accident.
Califano's son was 2 or 3 years old and had accidentally swallowed "a hell of a lot of aspirin," Califano recalled. He put the boy, Joseph III, in the car and raced to the hospital.
As doctors pumped the boy's stomach, Califano spoke to the president and told him what happened.
"I said, 'My son swallowed aspirin, and they’re getting it out of his system.' And probably he said, 'You know, this is a goddamn disgrace, these bottles, they ought to be made so kids can’t open them' and ranted on about that," Califano said.
Califano's son fully recovered. When Califano got back to work, Johnson said he wanted to do something to make it more difficult for children to get into medicine bottles. The Child Safety Act of 1966 followed, ensuring that medicine containers were more childproof.
"It was classic LBJ," Califano said. "It was classic 'We've got to do something about this.'"
A few years later, in 1970, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act was passed, which required a number of household substances to be put in childproof packaging.
As for Califano's son? He is now a surgeon who specializes in head and neck cancers at Johns Hopkins University and a professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery.