Marion Donovan

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Marion Donovan
Born October 15, 1917
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Died November 4, 1998(1998-11-04) (aged 81)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater Rosemont College
Known for First waterproof disposable diaper
Notable awards National Inventors Hall of Fame

Marion O'Brien Donovan (born October 15, 1917 - November 4, 1998) was an American inventor and entrepreneur. She is best known for developing the first waterproof disposable diaper,[1] a feat which earned her election to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.[2]

Early life and Education[edit]

Donovan was born in 1917 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.[3] Her father, also an inventor, developed and ran the South Bend Lathe Works manufacturing plant along with her uncle in South Bend, Indiana.[1] Her father and uncle had invented an industrial lathe that was used to grind both "automobile gears and gun barrels."

Donovan received a B.A. in English from Rosemont College in Pennsylvania in 1939. In 1958, she earned a master's degree in architecture from Yale University, where she was one of only three women in her graduating class.[4]

Donovan had stints as an editor at both Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazine.[4] She eventually quit working to focus on her family life.[2] Donovan was first married to James F. Donovan and later to John F. Butler and had two children.[4]


After World War II, unhappy with the thankless and repetitive task of changing her daughter's cloth diapers, along with the mess the soiled diaper made to the surrounding bedsheets and her daughter's clothing, she came up with a possible solution. With the use of a sewing machine and a shower curtain, she succeeded in developing what is considered the first waterproof diaper cover.[3] Not only did this new diaper keep the bed and clothing from becoming wet or soiled, but it also did not cause chafing or diaper rash.

Donovan was granted four patents for her diaper cover, including the use of plastic snaps as opposed to safety pins.[3] In 1949, she attempted to sell what she called the "boater" to a number of different manufacturers; the effort was, at first, largely unsuccessful. She later started selling the waterproof diaper at Saks Fifth Avenue.[1] Two years later her company and patents were sold for $1,000,000 to the Keko Corporation.[1][4]

Donovan was granted 20 patents from 1951 to 1996. These included woman-related essentials and other convenience items, such as a facial tissue box, storage container box, towel dispenser, hosiery clamp, envelope and writing sheet combination, closet organizer, and dental flossing products.[4] In 1985, she invented the product DentaLoop, a two-ply dental floss that eliminated the need to wrap the dental floss around one's finger for use.[1]

Later life and death[edit]

Donovan died on November 4, 1998, at the age of 81 at Lenox Hill Hospital in the Manhattan section of New York City.[5]

Honors and Awards[edit]

Donovan was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lauren Kata. "Technology, Invention, and Innovation collections". Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  2. ^ a b c "Marion Donovan". National Inventors Hall of Fame. 
  3. ^ a b c "Marion Donovan: Inventor of Disposable Diapers". Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Lemelson Center: Article: First Papers of a Woman Inventor Acquired by Archives Center". Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  5. ^ Mcg, Robert (1998-11-18). "Marion Donovan, 81, Solver Of the Damp-Diaper Problem – Obituary; Biography". Retrieved 2010-02-24.