Mothers of Invention: Marion Donovan (Disposable Diapers)

MarionDonovanParents around the world can thank today’s “mother of invention” every time they pick up a Pampers®, Huggies® or Luvs® to change their little one’s diaper.  Although her ideas were considered impractical at the time, they eventually led to the first truly disposable diaper coming to market in 1961.

Marion O’Brien Donovan was born October 15, 1917 to parents Miles and Ann (O’Connor) O’Brien in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Her career later as an inventor must have come naturally since she was born into a family of inventors.  Her father and uncle John (they were twins) ran a manufacturing plant in South Bend and had invented an industrial lathe which ground automotive gears and gun barrels.

Apparently, her father, the son of Irish immigrants, was quite successful at his trade – in the 1920 and 1930 censuses the family employed two servants.  Ann O’Brien, however, had died in 1925, leaving Miles with two daughters to raise – Frances and Marion.  Marion spent quite a bit of time during her childhood observing operations at her father’s business, perhaps because her mother had died.  Miles helped Marion with her first childhood invention – tooth powder (she would later invent a new type of dental floss).

NOTE: This article is being re-purposed and will be included in a special edition of Digging History Magazine.  Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here: or try a subscription here.


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