History of Best Disposable Diapers
Many people think that disposable diaper has come to us recently and its usage started not so long before. They are wrong, in fact, the usage of baby diaper dates back to the history of civilization and mankind. To be more precise, it dates back to the history of women. As a modern man and woman need diapers for their baby, so did Adam and Eve. As to the history of best disposable diapers, several ancient documents refer that special clothing was used for babies in the early stage of mankind. At that time, animal skins, milkweed leaf wrap, skin of trees, etc. natural resources were used as baby diapers. Many ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Aztecs and the Egyptians documented their daily life activities. In those documentations, there were clear indications of the usage of diapers for babies. People from all walks of life needed it, from the rich man to the beggar. In fact, using baby diapers was one of the very first achievement that distinguished humans from animals. From the start of history, in numerous European cultures, babies were wrapped with bands of linen or fabric around each limb and across the body. It is found from several documents that, in the Elizabethan times, babies got fresh diapers every few days. Several documentations also indicate that the Eskimo people used moss and sealskin as diapers.
In some innate American tribes, moms used fresh grass and rabbit skin as baby diapers. This was also seen among the South Americans. But as we move to the warmer tropical areas, babies were generally naked and the mother has to anticipate the baby’s guts movements in order to prevent a mess. In the western American area at early days, wet disposable diapers were not washed at all. Rather, they hung it by the fireplace and reused again. As a result, at those times, skin rash was a regular and consisting problem. This way didn’t change until the Industrial Uprising of 1820, from that time people started taking diapers more seriously.
When you think of best disposable diapers today, the only thing that comes to your mind is Pampers or Huggies. Is the diaper soft enough for the delicate skin of the baby? Will it hold enough liquid for a longer amount of time? But do you know how these modern diapers came? What were diapers like 50 or 100 years before? Were there any diapers at the ancient time? The origin of disposable diapers is not too long ago. Before that, people only used cloth diapers. From the 40s, people came to know about the best disposable diapers. But at that time, it was a luxury item and only a product of the very rich people. For hundeds of decades, mothers had to deal with baby’s gut movements in other ways. At the Elizabeth times, cloth diapers were used a lot. But they needed to be changed so frequently that it was not economically and environmentally feasible.
Several documentaries show that in ancient times, there were uses of baby diapers. At that time, people used natural resources like Milkweed leaf wrap, bulk of trees, animal skin etc. as a diaper. In many European societies, mothers used to wrap their baby’s body tightly with strips of linen or wool. The modern diaper we see today really came from Europe and North America during the 1800s.
In the late 1800s, babies in the Europe and America started using the originator of the modern disposable diaper. A rectangular piece of linen, stockinet or cotton was folded and held in place using pins. The term ‘Diaper’ originally meant a general design of repeated geometrical shapes along with a white linen fabric. So the first disposable baby diapers are made with fabrics with a repeated design on them. An American, Maria Allen was the introducer of the foremost bulk made cloth diaper in 1887.
After having a better idea of bacteria, virus, fungus and other microorganisms and the ways to prevent them, mankind reduced the outbreak of skin rash. At the early stage of the 20th century era, numerous educated parents used boiling water to wash wet baby diapers and prevent skin diseases. But boiling a big container of disposable diapers needed much energy and time. Some of the older readers, may still remember how mothers at that time boiled container full of baby diapers and then swung them to get dry. Younger booklovers may have a clear idea by watching old Disney cartoons.
Disposable diapers that were used in the 40s were a thick cotton cloth which was folded into a weird rectangular shape. It had become a long tradition that grandmother taught their daughters at the time of the first grandchild. At that time, it was also tradition to talk about how much the grandchild resembles the grandmother. However, this tradition didn’t continue far longer when the Industrial Uprising took place.
During the Second World War, as the amount of employed mothers increased, there was a need for a more sustainable disposable baby diaper. At that time, fresh cotton diapers were delivered to working mothers on an as-needed basis. Similar to many great inventions, no one can identify a single person as the inventor of the modern disposable baby diaper. The disposable diaper we see today developed gradually, it didn’t happen overnight. The earliest forms of disposable diapers were made available in Sweden at the start of this decade. Those disposable diapers had tissue based under pads and inserts in them. In 1942, Paulistrom was the first to use absorbent pads as baby diapers which was prepared from creped fiber tissue in Sweden. Maybe it was since cotton had turned into a valuable material due to the Second World War.
Some years later in the North America, a homemaker named Marion Donovan designed a watertight covering for baby diapers named ‘Boater’. Her first design of the water proof disposable diaper was made from shower curtain material in which a disposable diaper was inserted. Marion received several copyrights for her remarkable designs including the usage of plastic snaps which replaced the unsafe safety pins.
One year later, in 1947, George M. Schroder, an officer of Textile Research Institute of the University Of Chattanooga, Tennessee, US, was contacted with Henry Frede & Co. To produce the first disposable diaper ever made with non-woven disposable fabric. In the same year, a British mom, Valarie Hunter Gordon made a double piece throwaway diaper. In accordance with some sources, for having various problems during the long flights, eastern airlines started a project with Chicopee for developing a further advanced and effectual throwaway diaper to help the parents travelling with small infants. As a result, the CHUX disposable diaper was produced. It was a rectangular diaper first manufactured in 1949. During the next year, Paulistrom made another version of the disposable baby diaper named “Roll Diaper”. It was made with rolls of cellulose that was inserted into a finely molded mesh. Customers had to cut it and reuse it in panties.
At that time, disposable diapers were treated as a luxury item which was used only for vacations, trips or when visiting somewhere formal. At that time seeing a baby with disposable diaper was very rare. The first true disposable baby diaper was produced using a modest four-sided design. Several layers of tissue papers were used as the absorbent core of the diaper and the outside was covered with a plastic layer. At that time, there was no tape given along with the baby diaper. The total capacity of those diapers was about 100 ml approximately. As a result, they provided a very poor service. However, the disposability of those diapers had a great value for the parents at that time. At that era, people believed it was one of the greatest inventions of mankind without any doubt.
Here’s a quick diaper evolution timeline according to year:
The design of a diaper changed a bit during the 50s. During this era, various famous diaper brands entered into the market with their own unique and simple diaper designs. Some of the brands are Parke-Davis, Playtex and Kendall. The market share of the baby diapers was very low due to high cost and unsatisfactory performance. Only a very few countries in the world had the privilege to use it. Molnlycke entered into the market in 1957 with a newer version of disposable diaper made from paper pulp.
The disposable diapers evolved and developed quickly from the 60s and onwards. It is because the industries learnt the necessities of the mothers and produced according to that. Tissue was replaced by pulp. Instead of paper, the industries started using cellulose fabric which enhanced the performance of the disposable diapers. In 1961, Pampers launched their new diaper which hit the market. The disposable baby diaper got better with time as the quality of non-woven fabrics got better and softer. At that time, the baby diapers were manufactured in two sizes, they are average and large. The diapers were very thick at that time to reduce the possibility of leakage. Each diaper weighted about 65 grams to even more. Those diapers didn’t have any tapes included, so they were not meant to be attached. This became a problem. Pampers launched a brand new C-fold design in the 1966 and since 1969, they started to manufacture a ‘third’ size. The best diapers at that time had an average leakage value of 8 to 10%.
In 70s, the disposable diaper companies exploded in the developed countries and in some developing countries in the world. At that time there were two rivals in the world diaper market, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark. The competition between them to possess the world diaper marketplace quickly developed new and improved diaper designs. The price of the diapers got reduced. The world demand for disposable baby diaper exceeded than the overall production. The markets acquired an exponential upsurge in Japan, United States and Europe. This industrial boom also occurred in Latin America, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. For the convenience of using diapers, an improved version was developed which included paper tapes to attach to the body. Johnson & Johnson made this improvement in 1970.
Later on the folding system of the disposable diapers got improved with the “Z fold” system. Hot melts replaced cold adhesives which resulted in a faster diaper manufacturing process. Gradually the liquid holding capacity of the diapers got increased. The machines increased production up to 250 diapers per minute, which was totally amazing. Later on, after having some problem with the overall diaper shape that time, the industries manufactured a new hourglass shaped diaper which replaced the old rectangular shape. In 1975, the hourglass shaped diapers first hit the market. Later in 1976, shaped diapers of Huggies were introduced by Kimberly-Clark. At the end of that decade, industries used lateral elastomeric to improve the fitness of the disposable baby diapers.
From the 80s and onward, A newer, better and re-designed diaper was born. This decade is extremely important in the disposable diaper history. 1981 was the year when Absormex started to work on diapers in Monterrey Mexico. Three years later, in 1984, a pioneer in the diaper history, Carlos Richer started working in Absormex. During 1981 and 1982, a newer ‘bio-degradable’ was launched into the US market by two companies. For producing bio-degradable films, industries started to use starch to the poly film. Under UV light, the film shattered into pieces. The molecular weight remained almost the same, as a result, the product was declared not fully bio-degradable. Later on, the FTC aka Federal Trade Commission made the diaper out of the US market as there was no scientific theory to upkeep their claim.
Later on in the decade, in 1983, use of elastomeric developed the quality of disposable diapers. Before, elastics were only used in the legs. But now industries added them on the waist too. The fabric was changed to polypropylene from rayon, which provided a more comfortable, warm and softer texture. To help the diaper fit the body perfectly, a new system was launched where two tapes were used instead on only one. This system was known as ‘target tape’. But the system failed and people abandoned it after a couple of years. At the same time, in Europe, the industries made a frontal tape which allowed the mother to open and close the disposable diaper without the hassle of ripping the film down. The industries were attacked at the early stage of that decade by an ecological movement. The movement accused that disposable diapers were not eco-friendly and were causing disturbance in the nature. This movement was quite serious in the Mexico and European part of the world.
In 1982, Unicharm first introduced super absorbent (SAP) into the diapers in Japan. It was ironic that though the material was found and used for so many years, it took this long time to use it in the diapers. Billy Gene Harper and Carlyle Harmon first filed their patent for the super absorbent polymer. After starting the SAP in diaper production, a new era of the disposable diaper began. The diapers got thinner and the weight reduced down. It also increased the leakage protection of the diapers and improved built quality. The ultimate dream of premium quality diapers with a leakage possibility of below 2% finally became true. The weight of an average medium sized disposable diaper reduced down up to 50%. This showed that the industries had good intention to balance the harmony of the ecology, not disrupt it. It was also economically feasible as the production cost reduced down a lot. In 1983, a new concept started in Japan, which was the ‘breathability’.
Around the 90s, many more fascinating features were also added to the disposable baby diapers. SMS top sheets, aka spunbond-Meltblown-spunbond top sheets were very popular that time. The average poly film was replaced by a higher quality cloth sheet. More advanced automatic tapes were presented in the disposable diapers. The use of SMS in the leg cuffs provided more protection against leakage through the legs. Later on, elasticized automatic tapes were introduced by the diaper industries too.
A new technology started to take place from 1990. It was the introduction of curly fibers which was implemented by Procter & Gamble. The curly fibers enhanced the absorption power of the diaper dramatically. It allowed the diaper to suck moisture into the very core and then recoil back to absorb more liquid. Later on the super absorbent that were used in the diaper got more and more advanced. For differentiation and keeping up with the competition, various types of new features were added into the diapers every day. Glow In the dark, skin conditioners, Aloe Vera, germ guard, wetness indicator etc. were very popular features. In the 90s, a typical diaper company could produce up to 300 diapers per minute wherein a big company could produce up 1000 diapers. Later on at the end of the 90s, the outline of the porous core changed to the rectangular from T shape. The amount of SAP in per disposable diaper reduced down.
P&G became the 21st largest US based and 52nd Global based investor with a venture of $1.7 billion in 2000. The investment was for research and improvement of the disposable diapers. Kimberly-Clark now has production and manufacturing facilities in more than 35 countries of the world. They earn an annual sale of about $13 billion. Procter & Gamble are now having market in over 80 countries and became a multi-billion dollar company. Today, Kimberly-Clark has the achievement of being the second largest worldwide manufacturer of disposable baby diapers in the whole world. From 2000 and onwards, the one and only trend for the diapers was to be thinner and more eco-friendly.
Absormex, a Mexican company, launched the first biodegradable diaper in March 8, 2000. The diaper was named ‘Natural Baby Supreme’. This new diaper was much more advanced and improved than the previous version. It could degrade even in the absence of UV light. Due to the chemical degradation procedure, the molecular weight of the diaper changed dramatically. Comparing to traditional diapers, Natural Baby Supreme had a 200% more bio degradation rate in the land fill. When exposed to the atmosphere, it degrades in less than a month's time. To be honest, this was the first actual involvement of Mexico to the development of disposable baby diapers. The claims were soon scientifically approved.
In the next year, Absormex launched another new diaper named ‘Earthpure’. Amway distributed it in North America and Canada. For a very prejudiced law suit, Absormex had to stop the production of this diaper.
Here is a brief statistics on the production of disposable diapers over the past few decades:
The diaper production grew dramatically high from the 90s. In 1994 5555 million pieces of diapers were produced. During the next year, the number became 5,770 million pieces. It gradually increased to 6,062 million pieces and 6,420 million pieces in the next couple of years. In 1998, the production faced a fall down. The production reduced down to 5,752 million pieces a year. The fall down continued during the next few years. In 1999, it became 5.636 million pieces and the next couple of years, it reduced down to 5,452 million pieces and 5,446 million pieces. In 2002, showing hope, the production rate rose again producing up to 5.878 million diapers. In the next year it was 6,721 million diapers. From 2010, the production rate rose like no one has seen before. It was 8,630 million pieces in a year. Over the next few years the number gradually increased to 8,701 million pieces, 9,591 million pieces, 10,720 million pieces, 12,026 million pieces and 14,768 million pieces. This shows quite an achievement.
A brief timeline of the history of a disposable diaper is given below according to the era:
At this time, there were no industries or what so ever. Parents had to become creative and use what they had available in the nature. Animal skins, leaf wrap, etc. were the popular choice that time as a baby diaper. In European societies, babies were wrapped up with swaddling bands. Some popular choices for baby diaper were rabbit skin, seal skin, milkweed leaf wrap, swaddling bands etc.
A square piece of cloth was folded into a rectangular shape and folded into place with the help of safety pins. The cloths were linen, cotton or stockinette. The use of linen and cotton in baby diaper started in this era.
During this era, the only available option was cloth diapers. Disposable diapers weren’t available then. After the second world war, the use of diapers increased exponentially. As a result, the production increased too. Many companies at that time delivered fresh, clean disposable diapers to home as a need to basis.
Industries started to use absorbent pads inside the diapers. The pads were manufactured from cellulose tissue. Cloth diapers were also used widely in that time. 1946 is a remarkable and memorable year in the history of best disposable diapers. A woman named Marion Donovan invented something that changed the whole perspective to diapers. She invented ‘bloater’ which is a plastic shield for cloth diapers. It was said to be the very first model of disposable diapers. The first model describes of cloth diaper inserted into a piece of shower curtain plastic. After a few years, the very first Safe-T DI-Dee diaper was invented which replaced the pins with snap on system. This era is marked as the starting point of disposable diapers.
1960 to 1980
This era was marked for the quick development of disposable diapers. Pulp replaced the use of tissue inside the diaper. The use of cellulose fibers dramatically increased the performance of the diapers.
1991 to 1995
The recent years brought a whole lot of change in the manufacturing process and design of the disposable diapers. However, many people started to concern about environmental issues against disposable diaper. There were also some environmental movements against the disposable diaper industries. As a result, cloth diapers made a huge comeback. The distribution and sell of cloth diapers increased rapidly in North America and Canada.
1999 to 2003
During 1999 to 2000, Cuddlebuns, Honeyboys, SOS, Manyducks etc. diaper brands were quite popular. Among them Honeyboys diapers were the most popular. Even their diapers were sold at auction for up to $200 per diaper. At that time, Kissaluvs started an online business to sell disposable diapers. In this era, there was also a rapid growth of hand-made diapers. Stacinator, Fuzzi Bunz and The Diaper Pin started business since 2000. A couple of years later in 2002, another popular pocket diaper Happy Heinys started their business. During this era, the cloth diaper industries suffered bit turmoil as the growth of small companies threatened the big ones.
The future of disposable diapers
The evolution of diaper is a simultaneous process. In the 21st century, diapers are so improved that they have very little limitations. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. In the future, the industries will need to look into the functionality of the diapers even more. The cost of the diapers needs to be lowered down even more as well as more odor prevention should be looked out for.
According to the recent research, there are about 321 million babies in the world, starting from the age of newborn to 30 months old. We will need 15,600 baby diapers every second for every baby in the world, which will round up to 490 billion diapers per year. According to the statistics, today only one out of 5 babies has the privilege to use disposable diaper. As the rate is growing, in 2025, there will be 328 million babies in the world. If the rate of diaper changing is reduced down to 5 % through better quality and design, total diaper requirement will lessen down to more than 2 %.
We can make some predictions about the future of the disposable diaper market using the latest data and statistics. During the next 5 years, the largest market growth for baby products will be in China. The most diaper consuming countries will be India over the next 15 years.
Now let’s talk about how the diapers will be in the future. Here are some assumptions that people make:
The history of the diaper is quite old. It was with us from the start of mankind. People from every walk of life used disposable diapers for centuries. The evolution of diapers was quite dramatically over the years. It has become a part of our culture, a must needed item to raise a baby. The importance of disposable diapers is immense in our society. While looking out for the best disposable diapers, parents should also know the history behind it, how diapers came to our society and how did it evolved. A concerned disposable diaper community should be formed for the better future of our little ones.