Famous Women Inventors

Marion Donovan

Inventor of Disposable Diapers

Marion Donovan

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1917, Marion Donovan was instilled with an inventive spirit at a young age. She spent the greater part of her childhood hanging around the manufacturing plant run by her father and uncle, two men who combined to invent, among other things, an industrial lathe for grinding automobile gears and gun barrels.

Years later, as a post-World War II housewife and mother of two in Connecticut, Donovan would make good use of the ingenuity that she had observed in her youth. Frustrated by the thankless, repetitive task of changing her youngest child's soiled cloth diapers, bed sheets and clothing, she decided to craft a diaper cover to keep her baby – and the surrounding area – dry. Donovan sat down at her sewing machine with a shower curtain and, after several attempts, she completed a waterproof diaper cover.

Unlike the rubber baby pants that were already on the market, Donovan's design did not cause diaper rash and did not pinch the child's skin. The soon-to-be famous female inventor subsequently perfected her invention, adding snap fasteners in place of the dangerous safety pins that were commonly used. Donovan named her diaper cover the "Boater" and explained that "at the time I thought that it looked like a boat."

When no manufacturers would even consider her invention, Donovan struck out on her own, and the Boater was an unqualified success from the day it debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. Donovan received a patent in 1951 and promptly sold the rights to Keko Corporation.

Her next project was a fully disposable diaper, for which she had to fashion a special type of paper that was not only strong and absorbent, but also conveyed water away from the baby's skin. Donovan took her finished product to every large manufacturer in the country, but once again she found no takers. Incredulously, everyone she talked to told her that the idea was superfluous and impractical. It was not until nearly a decade later, in 1961, that Victor Mills drew upon Donovan's vision to create Pampers®.

In keeping with her innovative heritage, this "mother of invention" explored numerous ventures that were completely unrelated to her diaper improvements. She earned a total of 20 patents in her lifetime and also received an Architecture degree from Yale University in 1958. Although Donovan's extraordinary life may go largely unnoticed by the public, this famous woman inventor deserves the undying gratitude of new parents around the globe.