The first at-home pregnant test wasn’t widely available in the United States until 1977. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. A woman named Margaret Crane was plugging away at the problem a decade earlier, despite resistance at every turn.
At the New York Times Pagan Kennedy writes about Crane, who says she first got the idea in 1967 working as a product designer at Organon Pharmaceuticals, where they were making a pregnancy test marketed to doctors. She figured they should skip the middleman—“I knew a number of women who’d had abortions and went through misery to find one”—so she built a prototype. (She told Smithsonian magazine that she was inspired by the design of a paperclip holder.) That’s when she met with her first rejection:
Ms. Crane brought her model to work and begged her managers to consider her idea.
They all said no. The company’s market was doctors, and doctors would hate this product that made their services seem less necessary. On top of that, her managers seemed terrified by scenarios in which hysterical women killed themselves. “What if a senator’s daughter, unmarried, found she was pregnant and jumped off a bridge?” one asked. “The company would have to go under for that.”
That is an incredibly specific objection.
But one of them mentioned the idea to the Organon bosses back in the Netherlands—convenient!—and the Dutch were interested. When Crane found out her idea was a go, sans her, she pushed her way into one of the meetings, where she found a bunch of men ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
She found her boss in a conference room with a group of freelance product designers. On the table, the designers had lined up their proposed models. In an effort to appeal to female customers, the male designers had covered them in flowers and frills. Ms. Crane thought this was insane: What customer would want to analyze her urine in a box with a tassel?
She added her prototype to the lineup and took a seat. Crane is listed as the inventor on Organon’s 1971 patent, not that it did her much financial good: “We had a little ceremony in the office, with the lawyers and executives. They had me sign my rights away for $1.”
The kit went on sale as “Predictor” in Canada in 1971. The U.S. was a harder market to crack, meeting still more stubborn resistance.
“I was shocked, frankly,” she said, especially by the fears that the product unleashed in the United States. When a mail-order New York firm tried to sell Organon test kits to American consumers in 1971, it faced opposition from the United States Public Health Service. In 1973, a New Jersey drugstore bought kits made by the drug company Roche and offered fast and private tests to their customers, and though the technology was similar to that available in medical clinics, the state medical examiner questioned the legality of the service.
Why so much opposition? Some regulators worried that “frightened 13-year-olds” would be the main users of the test kits.
Warner-Chilcott’s “e.p.t.” would be technically be the first at-home pregnancy test approved by the FDA, thereby technically beating Predictor—given clearance around the same time as “substantially equivalent”—by a nose. There was then another round of hand-wringing over whether women would do the tests right, and if they’d get the proper counseling and prenatal care, and whether they’d immediately run to an abortion clinic, and, and, and. Nevertheless, by 1979, you’d see it advertised in drugstore newspaper ads, right next to rakes and home permanents.
Crane never quite received her due credit—Pictorial is among the outlets that have been remiss!—but the sale of her original prototype to the Smithsonian last year has helped bolster her reputation. Read the full New York Times piece and give Crane a thought the next time it only takes a couple minutes to find out about that late period, for good or for ill. (Let’s not blame her for the plague of celebs putting their positive tests on Instagram.)