Marion Donovan, Inventor of Disposable Diapers

Marion Donovan, inventor of disposable diaper
“I went to all the big names that you can think of, and they said, ‘We don’t want it. No woman asked us for that.’ … So I went into manufacturing myself.” –Marion Donovan. Illustration of Marion Donovan by Kirby Salvador

Marion Donovan (1917–1998)

A mother of two in post-World War II Connecticut, Marion Donovan’s frustration at constantly having to change and wash her children’s soiled diapers, bed sheets and clothes resulted in the first disposable diaper. Her first invention, a waterproof diaper cover, was the first of its kind not to cause diaper rashes and included snap closures instead of diaper pins. It became an instant hit when it debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. Though a success, Donovan decided to take her product one step further, ultimately designing the first completely disposable diaper. However, her design never became a reality because every manufacturer she approached deemed the product superfluous. Despite the setback, Donovan went on to become “The Mother of Invention,” earning 20 patents in her lifetime.

This feature originally appeared in the Future issue. For more inspiring stories from that issue, check out How Women Are Fixing STEM’s Leaky Pipeline and Mary Walton, the Female Inventor Who Cleaned Up the Industrial Revolution.