Sue Anderson – NESS Outreach Chair
Since Mothers’ Day is this month, I thought it would be apropos to tell you about three mothers whose inventions have helped others cope with daily life: Marion Donovan, Bette Nesmith Graham and Ann Moore. To quote Plato, “Necessity, who is the mother of invention”, and all three invented products that were necessary in their daily lives.
Where would today’s parents be without disposable diapers to make their lives easier? In 1946, Connecticut mother Marion Donovan was tired of having to change her baby’s soiled diapers, clothing, and bed sheets all the time. Cloth diapers certainly weren’t making her life easier. She had an idea for waterproof diapers, so she sat down at her sewing machine, and, using a shower curtain, created the first waterproof diapers. Yes, there were rubber pants available that could cover the diaper, however, these created diaper rash and tended to pinch the baby’s skin. Not a good option!
Marion changed her design to utilize snaps instead of dangerous safety pins, and marketed it on her own after several manufacturers turned her down. She called her invention the ‘Boater’, because “it helped keep babies afloat.” The Boater was a success from the first day it was sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and she obtained a patent in 1951.
She then created a disposable diaper, developing a special kind of paper that was not only strong and absorbent, but also drew the water away from the baby’s skin. As before, no manufacturer was interested in her product until nearly ten years later when Victor Mills created Pampers®.
Although we rarely use typewriters anymore, we still sometimes use something to ‘white out’ printed paper that started with Bette Nesmith Graham’s invention in 1951. At that time, IBM Selectric typewriters were in vogue in major office buildings. Bette was an executive secretary, frustrated with the latest carbon-film ribbons which made it nearly impossible to erase mistakes, so one would typically have to retype the entire page if an error was made.
Bette’s idea for a fluid to paint over mistakes on paper came about when she noticed painters working on her office building. When they made a mistake, they just painted it over. She took white tempura paint and watered it down to correct her typewritten mistakes. Her invention caught on quickly when the other secretaries saw her using it, so Bette sold her first batch of “Mistake Out” in 1956. She ended up being so busy filling orders for it, she worked out of her Texas home to produce and bottle it.
She was constantly re-engineering her liquid correction fluid and gradually came up with the perfect combination of chemicals and paint. She renamed this product “Liquid Paper” in 1958 and patented it. Nine years later, she had a corporate headquarters and an automated production facility with over one million dollars in annual sales. (In case you’re wondering, yes, the ‘Nesmith’ in her name is the same as her son the Monkee, Michael Nesmith. He helped her with the product when she was filling orders at home!)
The last mother of invention actually perfected something she had seen in action as a Peace Corps nurse in West Africa in the 1960’s. Ann Moore noticed the African mothers carrying their babies in a fabric sling tied securely across their backs. In this manner, mothers could work and babies were calm since they were next to their mothers.
When she arrived back in the United States and had a child, Ann tried to fashion a carrier the same way, but her baby kept slipping. Her mother helped her revise a standard backpack to meet these needs and they came up with a soft baby carrier which they named the Snugli®. This carrier can be used by both parents, enabling them to run errands, ride bicycles, and perform everyday household chores like cleaning and cooking, keeping baby close by and calm.
These are three examples of true mothers of invention. All were mothers, and all invented a product that could be used by others— and for the most part, products which are still being used today, half a century later. How many of you mothers out there have ever thought “I wish someone would invent something to make this easier”? Maybe you should! If these three mothers found the time to invent what they needed to make their lives easier, you can, too.
Even if you aren’t a mother, but have thought the same thing, what’s stopping you from following through on proving your idea? There are lots of sites offering assistance on this; one of them is http://patentassistance.org, helping inventors with patent research, licensing, documentation, and more. Good luck and Happy Mothers’ Day!