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Fascinating facts about Marion Donovan
inventor of  the D
isposable Diaper in 1946.

Marion Donovan
Marion Donovan revolutionized the infant care industry by inventing the prototype of the disposable diaper. Donovan's first breakthrough, in 1946, was to design a waterproof diaper cover made from shower curtains. The final product, available in 1949, was made of nylon parachute cloth, and featured  metal and plastic snaps instead of safety pins..Donovan called her diaper the "Boater". After much experimentation, Donovan later designed a composition of sturdy, absorbent paper that did the job just as well.
Inventor: Marion O'Brian Donovan (maiden Marion O'Brien)
Marion O'Brian Donovan
Criteria: First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: 1917 in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Death: November 4, 1998
Nationality: American
Invention: Disposable Diaper
Diaper photo courtesy Pamper's
Function: noun / dis∑pos∑a∑ble di∑a∑per   
Definition: A folded piece of absorbent material, such as paper or cloth, that is placed between a baby's legs and fastened at the waist to contain excretions. Designed to be disposed of after use:
Patent: 1951

CAPS:Donovan, Marion Donovan, Marion O'Brien, James Donovan, Boater, Victor Mills, Stanley Mason, ARY, diaper, disposable diaper, boater, SIP, history, biography, inventor, invention.

The Story:


Women Inventors, A Class Act   from The Great Idea Finder
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Leaking Laffs Between Pampers and Depends
by Barbara Johnson / Paperback - 176 pages (March 2000) / Word Books
Motherhood, she writes, "is like getting a life sentence in prison with no hope of parole," but children multiply the joy in life.
Diapers, Pacifiers, and Other Holy Things
by Lorraine M. Pintus / Paperback (February 1996) / Chariot Victor Pub

Each of the thirty one short chapters will tickle your funny bone or touch your heart, challenge your thinking, and inspire within you the need to walk more closely with your God.
Feminine Ingenuity: Women and Invention in America
by Anne L. MacDonald / Paperback - 540 pages (March 1994) / Ballantine Books
Chronicles women's patented inventions, beginning with the first patent obtained by a woman (in 1809) Discusses some of the economic, political, and social obstacles, and sets the women and their inventions in historical context.


Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Featured Marion Donovan for her invention of the Disposable Diaper.
Marion O'Brian Donovan Papers
Twentieth-century inventor, Marion O'Brien Donovan (1917-1998), made a career of designing solutions to everyday, domestic problems.
Pampers History
While some thought father knew best, Vic Mills believed grandfathers knew even more. This guy (who just happened to work for Procter & Gamble) looked for an easier way to diaper his grandson. The result - Pampers was born. From the Procter & Gamble site.
Pin-Free Diapers
In 1949, Stanley Mason had his first major breakthrough: changing his baby boy's diapers inspired him to invent, the world's first disposable, pin-free diapers that were contoured to fit a baby's bottom.
Women Inventors
Although Donovanís extraordinary life may go largely unnoticed by the public, this famous woman inventor deserves the undying gratitude of new parents around the globe.
Female Frontiers
Female Frontiers is a Sharing NASA project. These online resources are provided by NASA's Quest team located at the NASA Ames Research Center. The Quest Project, NASA's K-12 Internet Initiative, is supported by the NASA Learning Technologies Project.
The Lemelson Center
In 1951, Donovan received four patents for her invention, which was the precursor of the disposable diaper. That same year, she sold the rights to Keko Corporation of Kankakee, Ill., for $1 million.
The Bottom Line
In the category of unsung heroes, let us not forget a woman destined to become the patron saint of mommies everywhere--dampless-diaper inventor Marion Donovan.
The Diaper That Changed Us
Fed up with wet diapers (and wet sheets and baby clothes), Marion Donovan cut off a patch of shower curtain and sat down at her sewing machine. A few prototypes later, she came up with the Boater, a waterproof diaper-cover was a minor sensation when it went on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949.
The Nappy (Diaper) Information Service
Provides accurate information about disposable nappies to help parents of young babies make an informed choice as to the best type of nappy for their child.


  • Jamie Lee Curtis, actress, patented a diaper that has a pocket to hold moistened towelettes.
  • Although psychoanalysts might have a field day with the fact that the dampless diaper inventor's son grew up to become a urologist, James Donovan, M.D., merely laughs.
  • In the early 1950s Donovan sold her diaper invention for about $1 million "in order to devote more time to developing other inventions.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised August 18, 2006.

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