When Did Disposable Diapers Come Out?


Disposable diapers seems so common nowadays. You might believe that it has been in our history for at least hundreds or thousands of years. Well, despite how awesome that sounds in our heads, disposable diapers is actually a rather recent invention.

In fact, the invention is so recent, it was technically invented after computers first appeared. The first programmable computer was created around 1936, but the first disposable diaper showed up around 1947. That is around the time that my parents were born.

Roughly around the 1930’s there are records showing that Robinson of Chesterfield created the first “destroyable babies napkins”. From a historical standpoint, you can say that this is the first formal appearance of disposable diapers.

However, as you can tell by the name, disposable diapers are still far different back then compared to what you can purchase at your local store today. Not to mention, the destroyable napkins doesn’t really count because it has absolutely no relation to the model of modern diapers.

Back In The Old Days One Time Use Diapers Are….Unacceptable

You might believe that the idea of disposable diapers back then might sound something revolutionary, and beyond its time, but it was an unacceptable idea for everybody back in the old days.

This resistance towards disposable diapers was roughly eighty years ago. To people during that time, it feels awkward to make your child wear a disposable diaper. You might become an outcast in social circle just because you are following such a “ridiculous idea”.

Nowadays, it sounds weird not to slap a disposable diaper to your baby’s butt. This sounds like an extreme difference in attitudes, but there’s a reason why people look down on disposable diapers back then

Parents Feel That Disposable Diapers Are An Insult

Parents had an initial resistance to disposable diapers, because nobody felt that they are the best for their children. The idea of wrapping your child in paper (which is what disposable diapers are mostly made of nowadays also) sounded like an insult. To people back then, this is similar to serving a high class meal at a French cuisine with paper plates, and and plastic utensils. People were very stubborn so it took a bit of time before disposable diapers became accepted as a common thing

It Took Time For Disposable Diapers To Get Popular

This is the reason why it took around thirty more years since the destroyable napkins before disposable diapers become popular. You might be wondering why did it happen within the thirty year time frame. It could have been longer or shorter. The main reason is because female liberalism happened around that time. This is the time when the ladies stepped onto the stage and gained equal rights to men’s.

Don’t get me wrong, female liberalism happened way before the 1960’s. However, during the time period between 1930 and 1960s, something important happened that gave the perfect chance for the ladies to rise and finally choose their own lifestyle, and decide on the types of diapers we use today.

War Changes Everything

From 1930’s to 1940’s World War II was going on. During this time, the country was short on workers, because “male workers” have been drafted into the army to fight. In order to keep the country’s economy running without most of the men, women workers takes the scene.

Special propaganda was thrown all over the place to encourage women to fill in the role of “men’s jobs”. These usually come in the form of posters showing ladies doing men’s job. Propaganda was used to “brainwash” the ladies because it was best method to get them outside of their comfort zone. During that period of time, it is not common for a woman do anything other than “housework”.

Of course, all wars have to end at one point. World War II was no exception. However, after World War II ended, America was undergoing economic expansion. All companies were hungry for more labor. That’s why there were still plenty of employment opportunities even though the bulk of “male workforce” stepped off of the frontlines and came back to work as regular workers.

Later on, when the work market was sort of “saturated”, the government tried to use propaganda again to brainwash the ladies back into housework. However, not every women wants to go back to the “old lifestyle” after gaining freedom to work outside of the house.

Being able to work and call the shots in the family is truly a big breath of fresh air compared to be being jailed at home to do housework all day long. Instead of being oppressed by men for the rest of their lives, a lot of women still worked part time while taking care of the children.

Working Women Demands Efficiency In Diapering

This is why disposable diapers became popular during this time period. While working part time, women find it unacceptable to wash cloth diapers all day long. Washing cloth diapers is exhausting work. Not to mention, if its not washed thoroughly, it can cause diaper rashes and compromise their baby’s health.

To be able to work, while not compromising their child’s health, disposable diapers soon became an extremely popular choice. It is guaranteed to be clean, and rigorous laundry is avoided. It kills two birds with one stone.

Who Invented Disposable Diapers?

As mentioned earlier, Robinson of Chesterfield created the first “destroyable napkins”. Not only is the name different from the diapers we use nowadays, the diapers being made nowadays aren’t even based on their invention as a model.

The true inventor that created the model for modern day diapers would be Valerie Hunter Gordon. It might sound a little funny to call her an inventor, because she didn’t do it for the money. Her husband and her parents were all rich people. Money is simply the least of her worries. She simply got sick of  washing cloth diapers after having her third son Nigel.

Before she invented her disposable diapers, she actually tried to head out and purchase some. Unfortunately, it was not for sale because nobody invented them yet.

In the end, she used some old parachutes as waterproof covers and started making them herself, hence the birth of her Paddi, the world’s first disposable diapers.

Her neighbors and friends noticed how convenient her Paddis were and asked her to make them some. In the end she sewn 600 of the Paddis by herself. She sold them for five shillings each. Despite how much her friends liked it, it wasn’t as easy to mass produce the Paddi and sell it around the country.

During her first attempts of making it, no company would be willing to mass produce and sell it for her. Nobody can see how her Paddi invention can actually be profitable, because diapers are marketed for “women”.

Back in the old days, if the market don’t consist of “male” buyers, then companies will assume that they won’t make any profit. Of course, we all know that is not true nowadays. Women’s markets have some of the most robusts profits out there.

Another problem is that people felt disposable diapers might be unhealthy for their babies, so even if there were a lot of curious mothers who are willing to try, they shyed aways with fears of health concerns. Later, a medical article was published to show that there are no health issues using the Paddi. Eventually, Valerie made contact with Robinson of Chesterfield and the Paddi became massed produced and successful for many years.

Of course, we all know that Procter and Gambler (owner of pampers) and Kimberly Clark (owner of huggies) took over in popularity and Paddi got left behind in the dust eventually. The reason is because these diaper giants further advanced diapers into the form of how we know it today. If you compared modern diapers with the Paddis (invented by Valerie), you will find that they are quite different.

If you are wondering if Valerie was ever upset that the Paddi lost popularity. The truth is, she isn’t. Remember, money making and fame isn’t what she has been going for. She just doesn’t want to wash any more diapers.

How Different Were Valerie’s Paddi Compared To The Modern Diaper?

The interesting thing about the Paddi is that they still sort of resemble cloth diapers. However, the absorbent material is completely disposable. Similar to modern diapers, the Paddi has a cellulose (plant fiber) core mixed with cotton. Modern diapers uses air laid paper (advanced processing of wood cellulose) combined with SAP (super absorbent polymer) without any cotton.

Producing cotton is actually a big harm to the environment the change with modern diapers is a step in the right direction.

Another thing is that SAP allows modern diapers to be much smaller and compact compared to the Paddi. Paddi relies a lot on cotton/cellulose combo to do the messy absorbing. Of course, this absorption ability is nothing compared to SAP which can absorb urine at least 80 times its own weight.

The Paddi also has a reusable plastic covering which is similar to cloth diapers. Modern disposable diapers simply have a plastic backsheet glued to the absorbent core. Instead of washing and reusing the waterproof shell, you simply throw it out. Back then, the idea of having a plastic back sheet was looked down upon because it simply doesn’t look sustainable for the environment. However, humans enjoy convenience by nature, so despite that drawback, eventually the Paddi lost to the competition and the “all-in-one” diapers (pampers and huggies) win.

Modern diapers also has double gussets (the stretchy materials around the thighs) that makes better diaper fits. This is something the Paddi didn’t have. Having the gusset greatly lowers diaper blowouts and leakage because the fitting can be better fit most babies.

Conclusion


It has been roughly eighty years since the appearance of the first disposable diapers. It is shocking to know that its such a recent invention.

The inventor, Valerie Hunter Gordon just passed away two years ago in 2016. Before she died, she remarked how funny it is that people try to use and wash cloth diapers nowadays when she tried so hard to avoid it back then.  She wishes those people good luck considering how much work it is.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, please leave it in the comments section below.