Where did the idea for disposable diapers, also called nappie, originate?
It is not many years ago that cloth diapers or nappies were the “in” thing. In fact, it was the cloth nappy, in the last century, that was the best solution for babies before the disposable nappy arrived on the scene. Prior to this plastic pants coverings were introduced and used widely. A real disposable diaper was not available until during the second world in the 1940’s but was a luxury item that few could afford.
For thousands of years, folks had to deal with the excretions from babies in other ways. In Elizabethan times a cloth type of diaper was used however infrequently it was changed. Animal skins, linen and leaves are some of the ways used to help with this situation whilst some babies in tropical environments never had ancient diapers at all because they were mostly naked!
In the early 1800’s the history of nappies began. When the pioneers in the US pushed westward in covered waggons, mothers made all their children’s diapers, carefully rolling and hand-stitching the edges. Wet diapers were seldom washed, just hung by the fireplace to dry. However, individuals started to realise the importance of diapers in protecting furniture, and more importantly, their baby’s skin. Soon, cloth diapers began improving somewhat, as well as the hygiene.
The first all-cotton diapers were made in America. The first disposable absorbent pad used as a diaper was made from unbleached creped cellulose tissue (held in rubber pants) in 1942. Cloth diapers were still used of course, and in 1946, a woman named Marion Donovan, invented the “Boater”, a waterproof covering for cloth diapers.
I personally, can remember soaking my babies cloth nappies in solutions like Nappysan for hygiene and to try to eliminate the staining on the nappy. It was an odour some task as many will remember! I also used the waterproof covering which often made chafe marks on the babies legs, It wasn’t until about the year 2000 that the safety plastic diaper pin was introduced although metal safety pins were in use prior.
In the 1950’s there was another big change with the diaper debate. A Mrs Hellerman, the owner of a diaper service in Milwaukee went to the Kendall Company, which made Curity brand diapers, with a new invention. It was a fold that put extra cotton layers in the centre of the diaper and made it the right size for most babies. The fold was sewn shut, and the pre-folded diaper was born.
With new technology, the history of diapers only continued to improve throughout the 80s and 90s with lighter and more absorbent fabrics and even cute designs started to appear. Today, diapers are becoming more comfortable, thinner, and environmentally sound. It appears the progress with the disposable diaper industry and the convenience of organic biodegradable diapers has moved rapidly with both parents now needing to go to work.
When comparing today’s diapers with ancient diapers, or even cloth diapers, one can see a major difference. Yet nappies still continue to change. The history of nappies looks as if it will continue on forever.