From voting to equal pay, women never got access to their rights without putting up a fight.
That applies to pregnancy testing as well, which is why we discuss the DIY pregnancy test’s story and its impact on women’s lives.
Women had to jump through multiple hoops before they got the privilege of peeing on a stick to know if they were pregnant or not.
The convenience of instant pregnancy tests at home that we are accustomed to today is the fruit of a long struggle. A struggle that saw its first victory approximately 50 years ago, in 1971. And we all must thank Margaret M. Crane for this victory.
It was on the 6th of November 2021 that Crane’s revolutionary invention, the Predictor aka the at-home pregnancy test, celebrated its 50th birthday. 50 years ago, on this day, this test was first launched in UK pharmacies. This was a revolutionary DIY pregnancy test kit that made a massive difference to women because of its convenience and effectiveness.
So, join us on the journey of tracing back this 50-year long adventure that has impacted women all over the world. Discover:
- Struggles women faced before the invention of the DIY pregnancy test
- How this invention came to be
- The challenges faced in bringing this product to the market
- The difference it has made to women thus far
“Am I pregnant?”— How did women answer this question before the DIY pregnancy test?
Before the advent of the at-home DIY pregnancy test kit, getting a pregnancy test result was like getting blood out of a stone. Prior to the 1920s, women’s urine was injected into lab animals like toads, rabbits, and mice. If they went into heat, the woman was considered pregnant. After the discovery of the pregnancy hormone hCG, tests were operated via chemical analysis.
Here’s what a standard pregnancy test procedure looked like, before and during the 1960s:
- Women had to rely on doctors, chemists, or labs to confirm pregnancy
- They needed to collect and carry their urine sample
- This presumably cost more than an at-home pregnancy test would
- The whole process could take up to two weeks
The long wait and the hassle of visiting a doctor were only minor nuisances compared to certain graver issues. The times were different. Women faced certain specific challenges in an early-mid 1900s society which might be foreign to a 21st-century woman.
Except for the proportion of women who were married and wanted to have a child, pregnancy was not a piece of good news for the rest. Here’s what the delay and the hassle could have meant for those women:
- Health Concerns: Abortion is only safe up until a certain period (10-12 weeks). If a woman took the pregnancy test towards the end of this period, the two weeks waiting time could make it impossible or life-threatening to get an abortion, if she wanted to have one.
- Mental Impact: Even if the woman was well inside the safe period, having to wait two weeks can be nerve-wracking. It might cause mental stress that isn’t suitable for a pregnant woman.
- Social Pressure: If the woman was unmarried, chances are, she would face stigma for getting a pregnancy test, should her family or acquaintances come to know. This means the woman would have to practice extreme caution and secrecy. This would be difficult if she had to visit a clinic with a sample of her urine.
The spark of light: How a woman revolutionized pregnancy tests
In 1967, the 26-year-old Margaret M. Crane was working as a graphic designer at Organon, a pharmaceutical company. Although she was supposed to work on a new line of cosmetics, something entirely different caught her eye.
On a visit to the lab, she noticed rows of test tubes suspended over mirrored surfaces. She had chanced upon the pregnancy tests. Crane learned that the tests worked fairly simply—
- the pregnant women’s urine was combined with reagents,
- the reagent reacted with the pregnancy hormone hCG,
- the test tube would display a red ring at the base, and
- it would be reflected in the mirror.
If the woman was not pregnant, there would be no red ring.
Crane considered this procedure straightforward enough to be done by a woman at home. So, she got to work. She put together a mirror, a test tube, a reagent, and a dropper, and modeled the prototype after a plastic paper clip holder that she had lying on her desk at home.
This is what the contraption looked like.
It was that simple. Margaret didn’t have a background in science, and yet, there she was inventing what would become the basis of the home pregnancy test that we know of today. A little innovation and a desire to make a change were all it took.
An enormous push back: Crane’s fight to get the pregnancy test approved
The invention might have been simple but getting approval from her company and securing the patent was an uphill battle for Crane. When she introduced the idea to her male employers, she was treated poorly. Her proposal was met with a resounding “no”.
Here are some common and some oddly specific objections raised to this prospect:
- Since the company was marketed towards doctors, most of the managers objected that such a product would bypass the need for doctors altogether and thus infuriate them. The company was bound to incur a loss.
- The British Medical Association warned that without the supervision of a doctor, women might react to the tests in drastic ways which could severely endanger their health.
- One of Crane’s superiors even said, “What if a senator’s daughter, unmarried, found she was pregnant and jumped off a bridge? The company would have to go under for that.” They doubted women’s ability to handle situations rationally.
- Even chemists refused to stock the product if it came out. They objected that “frightened 13-year-olds would be the main users of the test kits”.
So, Crane, dejected, went back to her usual work. All the while, her idea had been compelling enough to stick with one of the executives, who later introduced the idea to the Organon parent company in the Netherlands. When the Dutch green-lighted the project, Crane was kept in the dark.
The following year, in 1968, she heard through the grapevine that her company was going forward with her DIY pregnancy test idea. But no one thought of including or even informing her. She decided to crash the upcoming product design strategy meeting.
To her surprise, she found that the male designers had covered the test kit in flowers and frills to appeal to female customers. This was not only vain but also impractical. So, she slid in her clear plastic prototype in the line-up, and thankfully, her design got selected.
In 1969, Organon applied for a patent, under Crane’s name, and had her sign away her rights for $1, which she is yet to receive. It went on sale as the “Predictor” in Canada (1971) and later in the U.S (1977). The company went on to make thousands of dollars with this product.
Here’s why Margaret Crane’s story matters
The Predictor was invented in 1967 and was made available to women in 1977. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that Crane got her due, when she was recognized as the inventor of the first successful DIY pregnancy test.
Needless to say, she didn’t make a single dollar worth of profit as the inventor. But even so, her contribution to women’s health has been priceless and recognised in recent interviews and media coverage.
Here’s how Crane’s invention made a difference to women in the 1970s and onwards:
- Women could know about their pregnancy in the privacy of their own homes. There was no need to involve a doctor.
- The test results were quick enough so that all possibilities of the health risks of a late abortion or anticipation and stress were eliminated.
- Women could take a significant matter of their health into their own hands. They didn’t need to rely on anyone, which was empowering.
- The modern stick version of the pregnancy test that we use today, exists because Crane’s test was invented. It created a major revolution in the health industry and for women’s independence.
The 50th birthday of the DIY pregnancy test symbolises a significant milestone for women’s self-governance and ability to use a scientific tool to make a decision about their life and body. The hurdles that Margaret Crane had to overcome to get the pregnancy test home kit approved shows how hard it was for women to be heard and respected.
And even today many battles women are fighting to remain such as the recent Texas Heartbeat Act that was introduced in March 2021, and took effect in September 2021, which enables the American state to impose a six-week abortion ban on private individuals through civil lawsuits so that members of the public can sue anyone who performs or facilitates an illegal abortion.
So, let’s celebrate these heroines that do not back down when the going gets hard. Happy birthday DIY pregnancy test and thank you to its mother Margaret Crane.