Little Revolution: How A Woman Came Up With The First Convenient Pregnancy Test

A life 2023

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Little Revolution: How A Woman Came Up With The First Convenient Pregnancy Test
Little Revolution: How A Woman Came Up With The First Convenient Pregnancy Test

Pregnancy test strip today can be bought at any pharmacy. It's hard to imagine, but once a woman could not find out without the help of doctors if she was pregnant. We will tell you how the first tests appeared and who was against the idea that they could be carried out at home on their own.


Yulia Dudkina


Prophets of urine

“Let the woman fill one container with grains of wheat, the other with grains of barley. Every day she should water both containers with urine. If the grains sprout, the woman will have to give birth to a child, if the barley sprout first, there will be a boy, and if the wheat will be a girl. " This is one of the oldest pregnancy tests that has survived to this day. It was used by ancient Egyptian women in 1250 BC.

Medical papyri also mention other ways of determining pregnancy, for example, by the shape of the breast and by the color of the eyes. Still, the main indicator was seeds. And although at first glance this method may seem absurd, it makes sense: modern research has shown that in 70-80% of cases, a test with seeds gives correct results. The point is in the chemical composition of the urine of pregnant women - it can favorably affect the growth of plants. However, the method also has serious drawbacks: in order to find out the answer, the ancient Egyptian women waited a week, and, of course, the future gender of the child actually did not in any way affect which seeds would sprout first.

Until the 20th century, scientists did not use the concept of "hormones" and could not qualitatively investigate the chemical composition of urine. Nevertheless, since ancient times, they intuitively understood that pregnancy in one way or another affects urine: most of the outdated methods of determining pregnancy were in one way or another associated with urination. In the Middle Ages, the so-called urine prophets operated in European countries - they diagnosed diseases and predicted pregnancy by the sight, taste and even smell of urine. They had special round tables, where the liquid was classified by color - from "clear as well water" to "dark as a horn". Depending on the color, the "prophets" determined the patient's condition.

There was no single standard of diagnosis - each urine prophet used his own methods. Some of them may have worked, but most had no scientific basis. One of the common ways is to dip the needle into the urine. If the needle was covered with red or black rust, it was considered a sign of pregnancy. Some prophets mixed urine with wine and drew conclusions from the way the two liquids interacted. By the way, this method is not nearly as useless as it might seem at first glance: wine can indeed react with proteins that are contained in urine during pregnancy.


Mice and frogs

In the 1920s, medical researchers learned to analyze the composition of urine in more detail and more accurately. They found that during pregnancy, the hormone chorionic gonadotropin - hCG - begins to be produced in a woman's body. The first test, which can be conditionally called modern, appeared in 1927 in Germany - it was developed by Selmar Aschheim and Bernhard Sondek. Scientists came up with the idea of ​​injecting a woman's urine into the body of female mice and rats: if the woman was pregnant, after the injection, thanks to the hCG hormone, the animal's ovaries began to grow and produce eggs.

Such a test was more reliable than the previous ones, but in order to carry it out, it was necessary to open the animal, and five animals were used to accurately determine each pregnancy. Ethics aside, the mouse test was expensive and very few people could afford. In addition, it was possible to determine pregnancy by this method no earlier than two weeks after the start of the delay.In 1931, American doctor Maurice Friedman improved this method - he began to inject not mice, but rabbits. It was technically easier, but it didn't change the essence. The next step was to use frogs. It turned out that if you inject the urine of a pregnant woman into them, they lay eggs - so the same frog could be used several times. This test was cheaper and performed faster, within twelve hours.

Although with the advent of the "frog" method, pregnancy tests have become more popular and more accessible, few have used them. They still could only be afforded by people with affluence, and besides, laboratories did not accept everyone in a row: in order to send urine for analysis, you first had to see a doctor. So, if earlier pregnancy tests resembled fortune telling or magical rites, now they have received a different status. In the 30s and 40s, women in Europe and America were encouraged to see doctors and get tested. Prenatal centers began to appear all over the world; they developed especially actively during the Second World War and after it. Politicians tried to compensate for the loss of life and allocated funds for diagnostics, medical care for pregnant women and nutrition for babies.

It took more than forty years before pharmaceutical companies began to release compact home pregnancy tests. While technically it was not much more difficult than doing the tests in laboratories, it turned out that many simply did not want to let women do it on their own.


What if she jumps

from the bridge?

In 1967, Margaret Crane was twenty-six years old and worked in the American office of the Dutch pharmaceutical company Organon Pharmaceuticals. Crane designed bottles and jars of creams and ointments. One day, passing through the company's laboratory in New Jersey, she noticed the test tubes - they stood in rows and flickered in the light. She asked what it was - they explained to her that this is how a pregnancy test is carried out.

In those years, a woman could find out if she was expecting a child only in the doctor's office. For many, this presented serious inconveniences: they had to come to an appointment, get tested. The doctor sent him to the laboratory, and after a while the woman returned to find out the result. The whole process was under the control of a specialist, and the woman could not find out the result without outside observers. For single girls, a pregnancy test often became a torment: they had to listen to lectures from doctors about morality and the dangers of abortion. In addition, in twenty-six states, artificial termination of pregnancy was completely prohibited. To avoid shaming and moralizing, many single women came for pregnancy tests with a ring on their ring finger as if they had sex in marriage.

Margaret Crane knew about all this: her friends and acquaintances went through this, someone had to do illegal abortions and face conviction. Seeing the flasks in the laboratory, she realized that if you improve the technology and give it a comfortable shape, you can help many women avoid humiliation and embarrassment, allow them to gain more control over their bodies and make important decisions without pressure.

That evening, she began designing a compact pregnancy test. Crane wanted to make it convenient and easy to use - so that it could be dealt with without the help of a doctor. She ended up with a small transparent box with a pipette, a test tube and a mirror. It was assumed that the woman who bought the test would need to mix a drop of urine with a special compound, put the liquid in a test tube and see the resulting reaction. During pregnancy, a red rim should have appeared in the test tube two hours later.

Crane showed her design to her superiors, but almost no one approved of it. It was explained to her: the main customers and buyers of the pharmaceutical company are doctors and medical organizations, the monopoly on tests belongs to them.If Organon Pharmaceuticals asks women to do their own pregnancy tests at home, they will no longer go to medical organizations that will incur losses. As Crane recalls, the company wanted to side with doctors, not women.

There were other reasons as well. The company's managers were afraid that women, conducting tests alone, would commit "rash acts", and the responsibility would fall on Organon Pharmaceuticals. "What if the Senator's unmarried daughter finds out that she is pregnant and jumps off a bridge?" one of the employees asked Crane. After that, she resigned herself to defeat and went to her workplace - to develop bottles and tubes. But one of the managers who heard about Crane's idea told his superiors in the Netherlands office about it. The European branch, unlike the American one, appreciated the idea and began to prepare for the release of compact pregnancy tests.

Crane only found out about this in 1968, after finding out that a strategic meeting was going to be held in the American office. Its participants - all men - will have to choose the appropriate design and packaging for the future test. She decided not to abandon her idea and came to the meeting without an invitation. It turned out that all the options the firm was considering were created by male designers. To “attract a female audience,” they decorated the packages with flower designs and decorative elements. “What is this madness? Crane thought. "Who wants to put their urine in a flask with tassels?"

Her test prototype looked much more concise. She put it on the table next to other copies, and the authorities approved her version - it turned out to be the most reliable and easiest to use.


The right to know

In 1971, the Predictor tests went on sale - the very ones for which Crane came up with the design. True, at first they were sold only in Canada. The first advertising slogan read: "Every woman has the right to know if she is pregnant or not." For many, the new device has become a symbol of the struggle for women's rights and reproductive freedom.

But while some were inspired, others, on the contrary, angered. In the United States, the tests have long failed to go on sale: US health officials and journalists predicted that the tests would cause a stir among "frightened thirteen-year-old girls." The media, affiliated with political institutions, argued to readers that a woman might not pass a test if she was worried about a possible pregnancy. In 1979, The Indiana Evening Gazette reported that customers use the test in a state of "emotional anxiety" and that this prevents them from following even "the simplest instructions."

Nevertheless, despite the propaganda and intimidation, in 1977 the tests appeared on the American market. First, pharmacies and supermarkets started selling Warner-Chilcott devices, followed by Predictor tests on the shelves. The alarmists were wrong: the main audience was not teenagers thinking about abortion, but, on the contrary, women dreaming of pregnancy. Many said that they like the new device because it allows them to "control the process themselves and feel safe." Initially, pharmaceutical companies were afraid that due to home tests they would lose the profit they received from gynecologists. But already in the first year of sales in the States, they sold tests for $ 206 million - these results exceeded all expectations. In 1978, the media began to write that pregnancy tests are "a little revolution that every woman can buy at the nearest pharmacy."

Photos: Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), National Museum of American History, photoDiod -

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