In the late 1960s, a 26-year-old freelance designer named Margaret Crane was working on packaging for the now-defunct pharmaceutical company Organon.
The sight of hundreds of pregnancy tests that doctors had sent into the Organon lab made her think, “A woman could do that herself. It just came to me just like that,” she tells Smithsonian magazine. And she kept thinking. By trial and error — she had no background in science — Crane created in 1967 the prototype for the first home pregnancy test.
Roger Catlin tells her story in the September issue of the magazine. The idea encountered some resistance at Organon: “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,” says Crane, who is now 75. “But I really persisted. I thought this was a necessary thing.”
In 1971, her home pregnancy test — named Predictor — went on the market in Canada, and, after gaining FDA approval in 1976, in the United States. It was more complicated than today’s popsicle-stick-size instant tests, but it worked on the same principle of detecting a pregnancy-related hormone in a woman’s urine, and it delivered results in two hours instead of the two weeks required by a lab test.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently acquired the prototype. (It came up for auction after Crane realized, “What was I going to do with it? . . . If somebody cleaned out my apartment after I died, they’d think, ‘What is this?’ and throw it away.”) The museum is considering making it part of its “American Enterprise” show about commerce — which would be somewhat ironic, because Crane never made any money from the device, which Organon licensed to other companies for production. “I had to sign off my rights for a dollar,” she says. “And I never got the dollar.”