12 Jun: Marion Donovan: Housewife Inventor

Until the mid-20th century, putting nappies on babies involved folding and pinning cloth towelling, then pulling a pair of rubber pants over the top. That all began to change on June 12th, 1951, when the US inventor Marion Donovan patented a new kind of nappy, with an envelope-like plastic cover and an absorbent insert.

Her invention ultimately netted her a million dollars (nearly $10 million in today’s money) and paved the way for the development of disposable nappies which have become ubiquitous in many parts of the world today. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly discuss how Donovan became one of the most prolific female inventors of her time; reveal that when she attempted to sell her invention, she was laughed out of boardrooms by male executives; and explain why one of her inventions, the “Zippity-Do”, could potentially be the undoing of Olly’s relationship with his wife…

Further Reading:

• ‘The Woman Who Invented Disposable Diapers’ (The Atlantic, 2014): https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/10/the-woman-who-invented-disposable-diapers/381310/ 

• ‘Marion Donovan: Waterproof Diaper Cover Inventor’ (National Inventors’ Hall of Fame, 2023): https://www.invent.org/inductees/marion-donovan 

• ‘Inventors on “Not for Women Only” from 1975’ (Lemelson Center, 2013:


#50s #US #Inventions #Sexism