Henri J. Breault, a career pediatrician from Windsor, famously invented the childproof safety cap. Born in Tecumseh and educated at the University of Western Ontario, he earned his medical degree in 1936, choosing to relocate to Windsor to establish what became an illustrious 41-year career.
“Palm N’ Turn” safety cap design – Image Source: Radio Canada International
In 1957, Dr. Breault became Chief of Pediatrics at the Poison Control Centre at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital. He grew particularly concerned about the frequent cases of accidental childhood poisonings that were increasing at a staggering rate. Children were inadvertently ingesting household substances such as aspirin, found in bottles that could be easily opened. During this time, there were approximately 1,000 cases of childhood poisonings in Canada per year, with about 100 deaths nationwide and at least one death in Windsor alone.
In an interview, Breault’s wife revisits his breaking point when he came home from work at three o’clock one morning. She recalls him saying, “You know, I’ve had it! I am tired of pumping children’s stomachs when they’re taking pills that they shouldn’t be having! I’ve got to do something about it.’” And so Breault took action. He initiated a comprehensive public health campaign—one that would ultimately lead to the pinnacle of his career: the proliferation of childproof medical containers.
After health education attempts failed to reduce the number of poisonings, Breault refocused his efforts from preventative to protective measures—namely, he aimed to invent a physical barrier that would shield children who were tampering with medicine bottles. Breault teamed up with Peter Hedgewick, president of ITL Industries, to facilitate the development of the “Palm N Turn” bottle cap in 1967, a device typically requiring the manual dexterity of an adult in order to operate properly. The early adoption of Palm N Turn bottle designs in the Windsor-Essex area made an immediate impact, reducing the incidents of local child poisonings by 91 percent!
In 1974, Breault’s Palm N Turn bottles became mandatory throughout the province of Ontario and eventually North America, saving countless lives ever since. Certainly, many would agree with health officials who declared that “the Child-Resistant Container is to childhood poisonings what the Salk vaccine is to polio.” Henri Breault died in 1983 but continues to be honoured as a local hero through the establishment of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital’s “Henri J. Breault Pediatrics Centre,” the city of Tecumseh’s “Dr. Henri Breault Community Excellence Award, and by all those he continues to protect.