Does it ever seem like a lot of your female friends are pregnant at the same time? Or a lot of celebrities are expecting? Well, with another royal baby on the way and what seems like a lot of Kardashian babies about to enter the world – I began thinking about the home pregnancy test. Who made that thing and was it made by a woman?
You guys, the answers did not disappoint. Buckle up, because this a good story.
Imagine it is the mid-1960s in America and you think you might be pregnant but you aren’t really sure. Your only option for finding out is setting up an appointment with a doctor and taking a pregnancy test. It’s not one of this stick pregnancy tests that shows a blue line either. You wait for up to two weeks before getting an answer. Ridiculous! Now imagine you are a single woman and this was an unplanned pregnancy and this was before Roe v Wade which legalized abortion. Going to a doctor is much harder and you may be chastised or given a lecture by your doctor. Wouldn’t you rather find out the results by yourself and get quicker results?
Enter Margaret Crane, a 26-year old graphic designer who was freelancing in a lab called Organon when she noticed hundreds of pregnancy tests the lab received. Margaret had been hired to design packages for lipstick, face creams, and other similar items. When she saw the hundreds of pregnancy tests, she thought there wasn’t much to the test really and any woman could do it herself. Although the first pregnancy test kits weren’t as sophisticated or simple as they are today, the process is quite simple. The pregnancy tests were looking for the presence or absence of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone that is present during pregnancy. A red circle appears at the bottom of the tube if pregnancy is detected.
Margaret Crane immediately began working on a design. Her at-home pregnancy test kit was fully designed in 1967 and inspired by a paperclip container which sat on her desk. It was called the Predictor and had a vial, dropper, and mirror. But in case you were wondering if this was an instant hit and the Predictor was available everywhere – it was met with a lot of pushback. Like a lot. Organon was worried that they would lose business if women were no longer visiting their doctors for pregnancy tests. But Margaret Crane persisted, because “women shouldn’t have to wait two weeks,” and she felt strongly that women needed to know their situation in order to begin taking care of it. The Predictor took only 2 hours to provide results.
One manager’s response was “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.”
“People in the company told me in effect that I was evil, this was really bad, this was terrible, and I had no right to be bringing this up—and women had no right to be doing this themselves; this was in doctors’ hands,” Crane says. “And apparently some doctors were very upset about it when it finally got to the market, but not for terribly long.”
Organon’s founders in the Netherlands were interested in the idea but I assume did not feel ready to bring it to America yet due to the rigorous FDA approval process. They also weren’t sure on the design. So the managers at Organon (all men) held a meeting without inviting Margaret but she heard whispers about it. The men had dressed up the Predictor with tassels, flowers, and fake diamonds on them. Side note: can you imagine some Lisa Frank style pregnancy test telling you if your bun was in the oven? Margaret crashed the meeting and slid her prototype onto the table with all the ugly designs. An ad man, Ira Sturtevant, arrived at the meeting to lead the marketing efforts, and this is where things get surreal. He immediately selected Margaret’s design but Margaret’s boss claimed that was only on the table for talking purposes and it was too expensive to mass produce. Not only did Margaret’s simple, sleek design OBVIOUSLY win out because she knows what clients — women — want, but by fate, she would also find a lifetime partnership both professionally and personally with Ira Sturtevant.
Margaret championed the at-home pregnancy hard. Despite her boss and managers still claiming it would be too expensive, she took days off of work to talk and meet with plastic manufacturers across New York. She found a manufacturer to produce her design for 30 percent less than the men’s frilly tassel/flower/fake diamond kits.
In 1971, Margaret and Ira conducted a trial run of Predictor in Canada. Predictor finally came to the US market in 1977, a full decade after it had been invented. Unfortunately, Margaret had to sign off all patent rights to it, which is not an uncommon practice as I understand. But she signed off her rights for a dollar which she never actually received. Even though technically her name was on the patent, Margaret Crane received virtually no recognition for design or efforts.
As recent as 2012, the NY Times ran an article “Who Made the At Home Pregnancy Test?” and failed to mention Margaret Crane. Whether that was intentional or out of ignorance, I have no idea, but Margaret’s niece caught wind of the article and pushed her aunt to take credit for her groundbreaking design. Then the prototype for Predictor was auctioned off at Bonham’s in 2015 to The Smithsonian for nearly $12,000 and now has a rightful home in The Smithsonian’s American History Museum. In fact, much of the information for this blog came directly from The Smithsonian (shout out to museums for giving credit where credit is due!). And the NY Times finally featured our girl Margaret Crane as the inventor of the first at-home pregnancy test in an article which ran in 2016.
So there you have it, Peggy Olson’s really do exist, and Margaret Crane is my new favorite inventor. The Predictor now sits in a humidity-controlled space next to other prestigious artifacts in the Smithsonian History of Medicine and Science Collection in Washington, D.C. and the design is rightfully credited to Margaret Crane.