The History of the Diaper

I was talking to a young mother about diapers the other day when I realized she didn’t know about cloth diapers. I think she assumed that there have always been disposable diapers and that just isn’t the case.  I didn’t use cloth diapers for any of my children but I do have memories of them.

Remembering Cloth Diapers

I was born in 1956 and while I don’t remember my own diapers (I have a good memory but not that good) I do remember trying to help my mother diaper my baby brother. She refused to let me use the diaper pins and I was highly insulted! Looking back I can certainly understand her reluctance to let me use the pins (by the way, I remember that the pins had duck heads on them). I also remember going to my aunt’s house and seeing cloth diapers soaking in the toilet….gross!

So I started wondering about diapers…..

What did previous generations use before cloth diapers and when did disposable diapers become the norm?

I found an article that answered many of my questions about the history of diapers.

Here are some of the highlights you might (or might not) find interesting.

Early Diapers Were Primitive

In some Native American tribes, mothers packed grass under a diaper cover made of rabbit skin, as it was done by the Incas in South America. In warmer tropical climates, babies were mostly naked and mothers tried to anticipate baby’s bowel movements to avoid any mess near the house. In the American West of the pioneering days, wet diapers were seldom washed – most of the times they just hung by the fireplace to dry and were then used again. (Double yuck!)  As you can imagine, skin rash was a serious problem those days.

Fast Forward to the 1940′s

In 1946 a Westport housewife named Marion Donovan invented the “Boater“, a waterproof covering for cloth diapers. Her first model of the disposable diaper was made of shower curtain plastic into which a conventional cloth diaper was inserted. Marion was granted four patents for her designs, including the use of plastic snaps that replaced the traditional and dangerous “safety pins”.

There were some disposable diapers during the 50′s but even well into the 60′s they were still considered luxury items. It wasn’t until the 1970′s that they really became a common household item.

Today’s mothers may not remember cloth diapers but  I do. I can still see them floating in my aunt’s toilet. It’s a visual image that just won’t go away.

If you want more info on the history of diapers here is a timeline for you…Diaper Timeline  Also, I should mention that even though about 90 percent of moms today choose disposable diapers, there are still those that choose cloth. Cloth diapers of today are very different from those pictured below. You can see and read about modern day cloth diapers here.

How about it ladies? How many of you remember cloth diapers?

  • http://georgielee.blogspot.com Georgie Lee

    I enjoyed and Tweeted this one. Thanks!

  • teresak

    Thank you! I appreciate it!

  • Beckie

    I was only born in 1953, and used cloth diapers for all my kids. We had a few of the “expensive” cloth diapers that were pre-folded, but most of them were like the ones in your photo, that you had to fold. I never really considered using disposables because of the expense, except for a rare occasion where we went on vacation. Our daughter-in-law uses cloth diapers now for her 2 little ones, although they are definitely much more “high tech” than the ones I used.

  • teresak

    I know what you mean by high tech…very cool cloth diapers! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  • http://sergerpepper.blogspot.it MammaNene

    I used cloth diapers on my daughter, born in 2009… and I’ve sewn them all by myself!
    MammaNene

    SergerPepper.blogspot.it

  • teresak

    That’s so cool! I admire you (even I couldn’t do it!) Would love to see photos and I’ll include them with the article!