Marion Donovan

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Marion Donovan
BornOctober 15, 1917
DiedNovember 4, 1998(1998-11-04) (aged 81)
Alma materRosemont College
Known forFirst waterproof disposable diaper
AwardsNational Inventors Hall of Fame

Marion O'Brien Donovan (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]

Marion 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 worked for a while as an editor at both Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazine.[4] She eventually quit those roles to focus on innovation and patents.[2] Donovan was first married to James F. Donovan and later to John F. Butler and had three 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][5] 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] $9.5MM in 2018 [6]

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.[7]

Donovan was featured on the March 15, 2018 episode of "The Daily Show".[8]

Honors and awards[edit]

Donovan was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015 and has a picture on the Hall of Fame wall.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lauren Kata. "Technology, Invention, and Innovation collections". Archived from the original on 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  2. ^ a b "Marion Donovan". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  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". Archived from the original on 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  5. ^ Blattman, Elissa (2013), Three Every-day Items Invented by Women, National Women's History Museum
  6. ^
  7. ^ Mcg, Robert (1998-11-18). "Marion Donovan, 81, Solver Of the Damp-Diaper Problem – Obituary; Biography". Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  8. ^