Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Disposable Diaper: Inventions by Women A-Z

We have Marion Donovan to thank for the Disposable Diaper, but it was not an easy path convincing manufacturers the product was even needed. Marion's father was an industrial manufacturer by trade, so the manufacturing industry was not new to her. She understood that persistence would eventually pay off, and as Vogue magazine's previous Beauty Editor, she had a professional understanding of the business world. 

Marion Donovan (1917-1998) showing the "Boater."


Marion's idea for a diaper cover came to her as a new full-time mom dealing with wet diapers, bedding, and baby clothes. She was fed up with the mess. There had to be a better way, she thought to herself. The only product at the time, plastic pants that fit over the cloth diaper, not only pinched the baby's skin and leaked at the sides, they caused diaper rash. (I remember they also cracked and split).

The old way: Plastic pants over a cloth diaper.

Marion put her baby down for a nap, turned on the sewing machine, and began constructing a new diaper cover. She started with an old shower curtain, cutting it up and going through several versions, playing with ideas, realizing at some point she needed a new material. She tried a parachute material and the fabric was perfect. 

Adding plastic snaps and foregoing the traditional safety pins, the "Boater" was born (a fitting description because it did indeed look like a boat). Unlike the old plastic pants, it was waterproof, didn't cause diaper rash, and didn't pinch baby's skin. 

A cloth diaper is inserted into an opening in the Boater
 
Marion with baby Sharon wearing "The Boater."
 

Manufacturers pooh-poohed her idea, so Marion found a way to manufacture the diaper on her own. In 1949, Saks Fifth Avenue became the first store to sell the Boater. It was available in pink, blue and white and sold for $1.95. The diaper cover was an instant success.  
The Miami News, Jul 3, 1949

Marion later received a patent in 1951, and sold the rights. But this was only the beginning . . . The diaper was still only a cover. Marion wanted a fully disposable diaper, and went to work on a new design. She found a special type of paper that was strong, absorbent, and kept the baby dry. Again, manufacturers pooh-poohed her idea as "impractical" and "superfluous." 

Meanwhile, others ran with her original idea for a diaper cover, and hybrids like the Playtex Dryper (1950s) were born. Then, almost a decade later in 1961, Victor Mills used Marion's idea for a disposal product, and manufactured the first real disposable diaper, Pampers . . . but the credit as inventor goes to Marion

(Vintage) Pampers in 1961
Marion went on to receive a degree in Architecture at Yale University in 1958, and even designed her first home. She filed twenty patents unrelated to diapers over her lifetime.

 A quote by her son, commenting on his mother's strengths:

"She looked at problems or tasks that had to be done in a traditional way, and said, 'This could be better'."




Sources:
http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/03.10.99/women5-9910.html (From the March 10-17, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz, Kelly Luker); http://www.women-inventors.com/Marion-Donovan.asp;

http://jaypgreene.com/2010/10/page/4/http://dirtydiaperlaundry.com/marion-donovan-inventor-of-the-modern-cloth-diaper-the-boater-1946/

Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

34 comments:

  1. Now this does not surprise me, coming from a time when babies were mostly just a women's problem it took a woman to come up with a simpler solution. I love the quote about her :)
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. Back then women took care of the babies more than men.....unlike today.
      Have a nice Easter!

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  2. This is really interesting! And that now there's a trend back to cloth diapers instead of fully disposable ones due to money and sustainability concerns.

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    1. Oh I didn't know this. So those diaper covers might make a comeback.
      Have a nice Easter!

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  3. It is so interesting to learn who the woman was, behind the invention.

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    1. Yes, neat to know and not surprised it was a woman :)

      Happy Easter!

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  4. All hail to this women. I hear the horror stories about washable diapers from my childhood, and I am happy that when I had to change my little sister disposable diapers were already available... :D

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    1. Yes, very messy. I only used disposable on trips. Otherwise too expensive.
      Have a nice Easter!

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  5. I love your theme. Can't say I've had much experience with diapers though.

    Blogging about Dagoba myself today.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Gwen :)

      Have a nice Easter!

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  6. "impractical" and "superfluous."? Clearly, these people didn't have children.
    Really enjoyed this post. I like learning how these everyday items were first invented.

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    Replies
    1. I wonder what these same folks had to say years later.

      Have a nice Easter!

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  7. I bet people regretted not getting on board with her invention. It sounds like she was just plain brilliant.

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  8. That's an absolutely fantastic story. What an invention! Thanks for sharing.

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  9. ...and then there's the wonderful moment when baby toddles toward the edge of the lake, does the 'bottom flop' into the water...and can't stand up because the super-absorbent material has essentially turned to Cement. A mother I know said, however, that she had less problems wit diaper rash when she used the disposable diapers. My mother mourned the loss of her furniture polishing cloths, but liked the disposables, as well.

    Neat post and neat lady!

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  10. It never ceases to amaze me that women know what omen need for themselves and their children; men seem oblivious, even today. (smile)
    Great post!

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    1. I think it's happening today in health care...another subject I realize but makes me wonder.

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  11. Regardless whether the disposable diaper is environmentally friendly, this lady created a great invention and sounds like her determination, strength, common-sense and intelligence paid off-Great lady who could be used as an standard for people when they are ready to give up

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    1. I loved telling her story for that reason. A neat role model for us all!

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  12. Great post Sharon thank you! Clever gal. I also love her quote about doing things better! I personally think cloth nappies (that's what they're called here in South Africa) are best though believe me I used disposables many a time - a long time ago when my children were small. Here in SA they're desperately expensive and I wonder how mothers can afford them. How disposable are they these days I wonder .. I read something about landfills across the world of nappies and they don't really disintegrate..

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    1. We need biodegradeble diapers! But they are affordable and super convenient here. I hope manufacturers are working on this.

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  13. Of course it had to be a woman to think a diapers. Great post and excellent to read.
    Yvonne.

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  14. Hi Sharon - yes the landfills are now full of disposable nappies ... baby ones and adult ones ... but a brilliant invention - just gets taken over and we use them more than we should .. I hope they can find a replacement for them, and for cat litter, and for plastic .. and for etc etc ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. 'Nappies'...love the British name :) Agreed...we need a new diaper. Kind of think if Marion were alive today, she'd be right on it.

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  15. We were only talking about nappies, as we call them in Australia, today. I recall only using cloth for our first born. Lots of washing. We gave up and switched to disposables for our second. Great invention. Hats off to Marion Donovan.

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    1. Me too David. Mostly cloth with my firstborn. It was cheaper!

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  16. Awesome! I know modern mothers are thankful for a less messy job! Now if we could only find a way for disposable diapers to also be environmentally friendly. :)

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

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    1. Yes, agree, as a lot of us want.. Now if only manufacturers would listen....and it needs to be affordable too!

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  17. Wow! I did use washable cloth napkins and washed some (not a pleasant experience -washing dirty nappies). Thank goodness pampers finally made its way to Nigeria. Much easier

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  18. You say 'nappies' in Nigeria too like the Brits do. A new word for me, and so so cute. Thanks, Keren!

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