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The Feminist Birth of the Home Pregnancy Test

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Portrait of Margaret Crane, inventor of America's first home pregnancy test, in 1965.

Margaret Crane, inventor of America’s first home pregnancy test, in 1965. Credit: Anna Kaufman

In 1965 Margaret Crane was a young designer creating packaging for a pharmaceutical company. Looking at the rows of pregnancy tests she thought, “Well, women could do that at home!” and so she made it a reality for potentially pregnant people to be able to know about and take control of their own lives and bodies. 

But while the design of the prototype was simple, Crane faced the issues we continue to fight when it comes to reproductive rights and the health and autonomy of people who give birth: an uphill battle to convince the pharmaceutical companies, the medical community and conservative social leaders that at-home pregnancy testing was safe and necessary. After all this, Crane is only now receiving credit for her contributions to the industry.


  • Margaret Crane – Graphic designer and inventor of the first home pregnancy test
  • Wendy Kline – Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine, History Faculty Purdue University
  • Jesse Olszynko-Gryn – Head of the Laboratory for Oral History and Experimental Media at Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 
  • Arthur Kover – Emeritus Professor of Marketing, Fordham University
  • Alexandra Lord – Chair, Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History

Episode Credits:

  • Host: Amy Gastelum
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Amy Gastelum, and Lucy Kang
  • Executive Director: Jina Chung
  • Editor: Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong
  • Engineer: Jeff Emtman 
  • Digital Media Marketing: Anubhuti Kumar


  • Podington Bear, Rhythm and Strings 

More Information:

Learn More:


Amy Gastelum: I’m Amy Gastelum. Today on Making Contact, we’re bringing you the birth story of America’s first home pregnancy test.

Meg Crane: It was just amazing, I thought, well how simple that would be, all you need is a test tube and a mirror and uh, you know, that’s uh, and the woman could do it herself. That’s it.

Amy Gastelum: That’s Margaret Crane. She goes by Meg. In 1965, she was a graphic designer, only 25 years old. At that tender age, she got it in her mind that instead of asking a doctor for a lab test, people could do pregnancy tests at home.

Meg Crane: Just as a woman, I thought, why couldn’t you know this yourself? Um, and not have some authority tell her this?

Amy Gastelum: That’s coming up on Making Contact.


Amy Gastelum: I’m Amy Gastelum, this is Making Contact. The story you’re about to hear was produced back in 2014 with the help of our friend, reporter and producer Anne Noyes Saini. In this story, you will hear Anne and me repeatedly say women, referring to people who can become pregnant. Back then, we failed to include those who can become pregnant who don’t identify as women.

Since 2014, we’ve both adjusted our language, but we wanted to mark that former oversight up front here. Okay, now to the show.

Meg Crane: This is where I work. It’s my office. It’s my, uh,

Anne Noyes Saini: Oh my gosh.

Anne Noyes Saini: That’s graphic designer Margaret Crane. She goes by Meg, and we met in her apartment last year. It’s sort of one of those cozy New York apartments where the living room and the dining room are the same room, and you go in the kitchen, you open the fridge, and it hits the wall.

Um, so you go back into her bedroom, and there’s this box taking up really precious space in the closet, and inside it there are about twenty smaller boxes, like about the size of a smartphone.

Meg Crane: Oh, it’s in upside down. Okay.

Anne Noyes Saini: And those are the very first home pregnancy tests. The ones that came out in the 70s.

Meg Crane: And there’s still some of the original ones here. So that’s what they’re like.

Amy Gastelum: And Crane has these because she designed them.

Anne Noyes Saini: Right. She’s not just a collector of pregnancy tests. And, she has all these tests left over in that box, but really there isn’t anything else in her apartment that identifies her as the inventor of this billion-dollar industry. So, no awards, no plaques, nothing. It kind of makes you wonder what happened.


Anne Noyes Saini: So Crane studied graphic design at the Parsons School of Design, New York City, famous school. But she left before graduating and started freelancing all over the place.

Amy Gastelum: And in 1965, she went to work designing packaging for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. The company was called Organon, and Crane generally sat at a desk for her job there, but…

Meg Crane: Once in a while I’d have to go over to the laboratory for some reason. So I, I, um, I was there and there was an older gentleman there, Dr. Slade, who’d been there for many, many years. Um, but, uh, and he showed me the, these tests and, uh, how they were done.

Amy Gastelum: This casual tour of the lab happened in 1965. Crane was 25 at the time, and she was the only woman in the lab that day.

Meg Crane: There were a couple secretaries, you know, that the executives had. But it was, generally speaking, a very highly male-employed company.

Anne Noyes Saini: So she entered the lab that day and she saw…

Meg Crane:.. a long line of test tubes and a, like a metallic, um, metal surface underneath them, angled underneath them. And someone explained that they were pregnancy tests.

Amy Gastelum: Okay, so at the time, a woman couldn’t just go get a pregnancy test at a pharmacy, or even at her doctor’s office. In fact, a woman could only get a pregnancy test done in a lab like this if a doctor ordered it. And a doctor would only order it if there were something wrong with her pregnancy. So back then, women basically just waited to see if they got big. And that’s how they knew for sure that they were pregnant.

Okay, back to the lab.

Meg Crane: And so all these rows of test tubes were different women, and they’re, they’re, um, um, being tested for, for pregnancy or not. And I, looking at that, I thought, it was just amazing. I thought, well, how simple that would be. All you need is a test tube and a mirror, and, uh, you know. That uh, and a woman could do it herself!

Anne Noyes Saini: Crane went home and she started working on a model for a home pregnancy test. Her first attempt was based around this small plastic paperclip box that she just happened to have on her desk.

Meg Crane: Just as a woman I thought, why couldn’t you know this yourself? Um, and you know, for all purposes, you know, if you were young married and wanted to find out, you know, what’s going on here, are you pregnant or not, you know, why wouldn’t you want to know that right away? And uh, and if you weren’t married and were worried about what you’d have to do if you weren’t, you’d still want to know soon. I mean, it’s as simple as that. I’m just certain you’d want to know, period, you’d want to know yourself, um, and not have some authority tell you this.

Amy Gastelum: She worked on this project in her spare time. She was kind of obsessed. In fact, the night that she finished it was New Year’s Eve. And that evening, Crane went to a party with friends.

Meg Crane: And I went like five minutes to the party and um, I just left the party and I spent the whole night trying to make this right. And that’s when I finally finished the design on the, on the test. Um, and I, you know, brought it in. And, uh, the man who I brought it to, he started asking me to call so and so. He thought I was his secretary and so I was to, you know, do this or that for him. And, and he looked at it, he was sort of smiling. I think he sort of, you know, he sort of laughed and said, you know, that, that, um, um. Maybe somebody else could do this, but we can’t.

Anne Noyes Saini: So part of the problem was that these lab pregnancy tests were like half of Organon’s business at the time. And the company, they weren’t into taking crazy risks and compromising so many of their earnings by changing their whole business model. So, marketing tests to women directly just seemed kind of crazy.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah, that’s right, that’s true. But, the other problem, or problems, were a little bit more tangled. The company wasn’t sure how a test like this would be received. socially or by the medical community.

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah, right. So, we have a friend, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, he’s a researcher at the university of Cambridge, and he actually studies that. He studies the history of pregnancy testing. And he actually, he pulled out this clip from a newspaper, uh, from England around 1969, which was right around the time that uh, medical labs there started offering pregnancy tests that you could get without a doctor’s prescription, which was crazy and revolutionary. And the doctors there, of course, were not happy. So here’s Jesse reading that newspaper clip from 1969.

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn: “Women who apply for pregnancy tests to pharmacists instead of visiting their doctor may be risking their lives, the British Medical Association warned yesterday.” So this is a radical statement. It’s not coming from a kind of quack or a fringe doctor, it’s coming from the British Medical Association. Um, I mean, this really does sound crazy, uh, today, but, um, you know, the article continues that women who are not happy about a positive result might do something drastic, like commit suicide, right? And that pregnancy, moreover, was a too serious matter to be left to self-diagnosis and treatment.

Anne Noyes Saini: Mmm.

Amy Gastelum: Mmm. Okay, so we talked to Wendy Klein about this. She’s a professor at Purdue University and her work focuses on the history of women’s health in the U. S. She did confirm that American doctors felt pretty much the same as their British colleagues.

Wendy Klein: Part of the doctor’s role is not only to provide medical care, but often with a moral tone, that they, they’re not simply dispensing advice or a prescription, but they’re going to let their patient know if they disapprove of the sexual behavior.

Anne Noyes Saini: Did you have any personal experience with, like, before you were sort of working on creating your own design for the test, did you have any personal experience with any kind of pregnancy test?

Meg Crane: I never had to have my urine sent to a test, and I was lucky in that respect, I guess. But, um, um, I certainly worried a few times whether I was pregnant or not, yeah.

Anne Noyes Saini: And if you had had to go to a doctor as an unmarried woman and sort of go through the procedure for testing, like, how, like, can you imagine what that would have been like for you at that time?

Meg Crane: A friend who had found a doctor who was very, um, helpful to her, um, sent me to a doctor who, um, put me on birth control pills, um, because he was very open to doing that, but not all doctors would have. Um, at that time. They just came around in the early 60s. And so, um, not every woman was, you’d have to be married. Let’s say your doctor would consider they wouldn’t give them to you unless you were married. This happened a lot, um.

Anne Noyes Saini: Why would you have to be married to have birth control?

Meg Crane: Well, guess. This is, this is our, this is our society, right?

Anne Noyes Saini: Um, right. So clearly, you’re not having sex if you’re not married.

Meg Crane: Of course (laughs).

Anne Noyes Saini: People really believed that?

Meg Crane: I guess they hoped that maybe if they came from a certain background. Uh, I think um, the state of Connecticut at that time still could not sell birth control in the entire state. This is in the 1960s. And this happened in other states. It’s not, it wasn’t readily available. Period. Period. Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Remember, women’s reproductive stuff was really hot in the 1960s. In Great Britain and the US, the pill and elective abortion were fiercely debated. And Jesse told us non-medical pregnancy testing was debated right next to these issues.

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn: Pregnancy testing was really bound up and caught up in much broader debates around, uh, you know, women’s rights, um, control over, you know, women’s control over their own bodies, um, around, around reproduction, abortion, and contraception.

Amy Gastelum: Wendy Klein, that professor you heard before, she said women were rallying around these reproductive issues because they were seen as the most basic rights, rights over their bodies.

Wendy: This idea that they could understand and have information about what their bodies were doing without somebody else telling them that their bodies were doing it was literally a revelatory moment because it meant an individual women could have more control over their reproductive lives, and thus, their lives more generally.

Anne Noyes Saini: So for women at the time, there was so much at stake. And also, a lot of pushback from churches and doctors.

Amy Gastelum: And that is the climate in which Meg Crane tried to make a home pregnancy test.

Anne Noyes Saini: And that’s, you know, just what was going on outside the company. Inside Organon, it really wasn’t much better. So, we talked to this guy, Arthur Kover, he’s one of Crane’s old coworkers. And back in the day, he worked in advertising, and Organon was one of his accounts.

Arthur Kover: What was Meg like? She was very pretty. She was very self-effacing, very quiet, and she also was very talented, as we found out later.

Anne Noyes Saini: Arthur admits women weren’t treated all that well at Organon, but then again, they weren’t really treated well anywhere at the time.

Arthur Kover: Even I, a chauvinist male, cringed at some of the stuff that went on, especially in the ad business.

Anne Noyes Saini: So not just organon, but just generally in the business world at that time, the way women were treated?

Arthur Kover:Yes. Women were treated as, uh, either, uh, processors of data, or potential sexual predatees.

Amy Gastelum: Mmm. That’s gross.

Anne Noyes Saini: So, given that, it’s not really all that surprising that the bigwigs at Organon didn’t really take Crane or her idea very seriously.

Amy Gastelum: But, she didn’t give up, and after she was told no, Crane kept pushing. And finally, one executive actually listened a little bit.

Meg Crane: And at one point, one of the executives, uh, went to the parent company in the Netherlands for a meeting, which they do pretty often. And he came back with some funds for it because he, he brought it up to the Dutch and they were so, um, uh, you know, advanced in that, that way.

Anne Noyes Saini: Crane says the Europeans were a little bit more progressive about reproductive stuff. In fact, they already had a similar home pregnancy test in the works over there. So they gave that executive some money to get it started here in the U. S.

Amy Gastelum: And that’s when they hired other designers to create prototypes for a home pregnancy test. Yes. The test crane had come up with and built and pushed so hard for.

Meg Crane: And, um, there was to be a meeting in the conference room, where these people would be showing their work. And, uh, I was allowed to be in that meeting. So, um, they put their work on the table, and I, at the end of theirs, I put mine.

Anne Noyes Saini: Organon invited their new advertising team to this design meeting, including Arthur and another ad guy named Ira Sturdivant.

Meg Crane: And he walked in, walked down the table and picked mine up and he said, well, this is what we’re using, isn’t it? And an executive said, well, no, that’s just something Meg did for talking purposes. At that point I thought, whoa. Um, yeah, from then on I kind of realized I wasn’t really going to be getting much credit whatsoever for it.

Anne Noyes Saini: But did they end up using your design?

Meg Crane: Sure, yeah, they did. They had, as a matter of fact, they said, uh, because the other designs are really not good at all, they weren’t scientifically right, they weren’t, you know, they were, Uh, very feminine looking little things you would get bobby pins in or something. And, um, I’d asked about, about, um, uh, producing mine, and they said, well, yours would be much too expensive. It’s very elegant. That’s for the wealthy woman. And, uh, so I took off from work and I went around to plastic companies and in the Bronx and Newark and all kinds of places. And I finally found a company that came in with a price that was so much less than any of the ones the, the other designers work, so they had to do it. I think that’s how it happened.

Anne Noyes Saini: Eventually the company also thought it was the right design and they bought the patent from Crane.

Amy Gastelum: For a dollar.

Meg Crane: They had a little signing ceremony in the outer lobby in the offices and, um, had all the paperwork there for me to sign. And I signed my rights away. I was to get a dollar for that. I don’t know. But I was just very thrilled that they were going for the patents, which I couldn’t do myself, you know, I couldn’t afford to do it, so. Um, I got, I was compensated later because the company came to my husband and, and me to, to, uh, do the test market in Canada. So that was, we got paid for that.

Amy Gastelum: That’s right folks, it started in Canada, not the U.S. But first, remember that other ad guy, Ira Sturtevant? The one who walked in and grabbed Crane’s design? Well, there’s a little bit more to that part of the story.

Meg Crane: When he walked in that day, I’m, I’m just I, I fell in love with him at that moment. And, um, we hadn’t met yet. And I came home and told my, my roommate in New York that I met the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. That’s what happened. The rest of his life, certainly. So, um, and then we started working together. That was January. And by July we were living together.

Anne Noyes Saini: They rolled out a marketing campaign for the first home pregnancy test. That was in Canada in the early 70s and they called it Predictor.

Amy Gastelum: But right away, they hit some bumps.

Meg Crane: Some, um, um, ministers across Canada got up in their pulpit and, and just said how terrible this was, and another, you know, shade of evil coming into women’s lives to be able to do this. I mean, we got really nasty letters from people too. Um, but for the most part, we got some, some good press. Some of the letters that came back were women saying how, how thrilled they were to, to do this themselves.

Amy Gastelum: Eventually, the test made its way to the U. S., and the rest is history.

Anne Noyes Saini: By the way, we did reach out to Organon’s current parent company, which is Merck, to get their side of the story, but they declined to comment.

Lucy midroll break: You’re listening to Making Contact. Just jumping in here to remind you to visit us online if you like today’s show or want to leave us a comment. We have more information at radioproject. org. And now, back to the show.

Amy Gastelum: At this point, Meg Crane had come up with the idea for a controversial, revolutionary product. She designed a prototype for it, she sourced materials for it, and she rolled out a marketing campaign for it. And at this point, she’s not even 40. What have you done with your life? Can you compare?

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah…

Amy Gastelum: Anyway, so, so after the marketing campaign, the test caught on here in the United States big time, right?

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah. Now they’re, they’re everywhere.

Amy Gastelum: You can go in any pharmacy and get a pregnancy test that you can take by yourself in your bathroom or wherever you want.

Anne Noyes Saini: No big deal. Yep. It’s very convenient, and it made a lot of money.

Amy Gastelum: It made a ton of money. It’s like 1. 68 billion dollars of pregnancy tests are sold globally each year.

Anne Noyes Saini: Damn. Wow. Yeah, it’s insane. It makes a ton of money, and it also changed the way that women learn about their pregnancies, obviously. But, and here’s the but, but, Margaret Crane, she never really got any credit for her work. Which is crazy, right? And it’s not like there weren’t opportunities to give her credit. I mean, a few years back, the National Institutes of Health put together this really comprehensive history of the pregnancy test. It started in 1350 BC.

Amy Gastelum: 1350?

Anne Noyes Saini: That’s right. 1350.

Amy Gastelum: 1350? Pregnancy test in 1350, what’s that look like?

Anne Noyes Saini: You know, I don’t remember. I think it was like peeing on like sand or something. I don’t know.

Amy Gastelum: Peeing on sand? (laughs)

Anne Noyes Saini: And it went from 1350 BC all the way up to 2003, which is when Clear Blue Easy’s digital home pregnancy test came out. And in that whole timeline, not a single mention of Crane.

Amy Gastelum: Hmm. That’s terrible.

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah, right? But then, in 2015, that prototype she made with the paperclip box, it was put up for auction.

Auctioneer: Margaret Crane, first home pregnancy test, there it is.

Amy Gastelum: Before the bidding started, a rep from the auction house asked Crane what she wanted to earn from it.

Meg Crane: I said, I, I, again, I, I, how do you, you know, put a value on something like that? And she said, well, five thousand eight? And I said, well, how’s six to nine? Because Ira’s birthday was November 6th and mine was the 9th. So that seemed like, um, the right amount.

Auctioneer: Anymore? 9500, I can and will sell at 95. Time will be out at 9500 dollars. Last call at 95. (gavel bangs) Sells to you, Christina, 4660.

Amy Gastelum: The Buyer was the world’s largest museum complex.

Anne Noyes Saini: That’s right. Now Crane’s invention lives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D. C.

Alexandra Lord:  So we’re going to walk down the hall to our storage room.

Anne Noyes Saini: Alexandra Lord is the chair and the curator of the Museum’s History of Medicine and Science Collection. She is now the keeper of Crane’s prototype. And Lord wears these white rubber gloves while she carefully removes it from the humidity and light-controlled cabinet where it’s stored now.

Alexandra Lord: And if you look at it, it’s not very sexy to look at. In many ways, it’s very simple and straightforward. It’s basically just a plastic box with a mirror on the bottom, an angled mirror, and two test tubes. Um, and they were, it was very simple to use. It actually took just a few hours and The Predictor and, uh, the company which produced The Predictor claimed that you could, um, have this, probably within about four or five days of being pregnant, you could actually make a determination. And since most doctors and most patients didn’t go to the doctor to determine whether she was pregnant or not until she had been pregnant for several weeks, um, this was just a major breakthrough in how early a woman could learn about her pregnancy. Second, it’s a really interesting comment on how someone who’s not a scientist, Margaret Crane was a graphic designer, can play a major role in getting a scientific project, product into the hands of the general public.

Anne Noyes Saini: Remember Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, the researcher at Cambridge? He says that without Crane, we may never have gotten a home pregnancy test in the U. S. Or, at the very least, we would have waited a lot longer.

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn: You know, the science was sitting around for a decade, you know, before Um, Meg turned it into a home test. I mean, just because the science is there doesn’t mean it’s going to be used by the people that need to use it. And I really think the um, it should, I really want to emphasize that it’s not, you know, it’s not like the design is an optional add on to the science. I mean, I really think, without the design, the science was nothing. It didn’t, it didn’t, You know, um, make the home pregnancy testing by itself. It really, um, it really did need the design.

Amy Gastelum: Remember Arthur Kover, the ad guy who worked with Crane at Organon? The first time he saw her prototype, he says he knew it was special.

Arthur Kover:  It was, it was dynamite.

Anne Noyes Saini: Dynamite in a bad way?

Arthur Kover:  Dynamite, well, you know, dynamite can be used to construct dams as well as blow down buildings. I could predict the fact that it would create a need that was always there but had never been crystallized. That’s the thing. It’s sort of like, something like this crystallizes a need that people aren’t really aware of.

Anne Noyes Saini: Okay, well, let’s be honest. Clearly, some people were aware of this need. I mean, it seemed really obvious to Crane, right?

Amy Gastelum: It did. It seemed really obvious to Crane.  And maybe that’s the point, right?

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Like, maybe any woman would have walked in there and been like, this is really obvious. And women and people of color are still way underrepresented in science and engineering.

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: And maybe, maybe, if more labs had more people with different perspectives, they’d be able to figure out how to create the next billion dollar industry. You know what I mean?

Anne Noyes Saini: Yeah. Amy Gastelum, I gotta say, does this sound familiar to you at all?

Amy Gastelum: It sounds very familiar.

Anne Noyes Saini: You know, here we go again. A woman with a great idea works her ass off to make it happen.

Amy Gastelum: Mm hmm.

Anne Noyes Saini: And then she gets no credit, no money, nothing. You know, everybody else benefits, including a bunch of people that don’t really deserve to benefit. I mean, let’s be honest, we benefit. We, the women who use the pee sticks.

Amy Gastelum: I do. Thank you. Thank you, Margaret Crane.

Anne Noyes Saini: Good. Good for us. Thank you so much. But also all those pharma guys that made billions and billions of dollars. They benefit a lot, probably more than us in some ways. And Meg Crane, she’s the mother of this industry. She made this industry possible because all those guys didn’t understand the importance of selling to women. And she did.

Anne Noyes Saini: Did you have a sense this changed things for women first in Canada, but then eventually in the 70s when it came here, how it changed women’s lives?

Meg Crane: Well, I remember being at parties or groups of people, um, and a woman saying, you know, for instance, oh, I just took the pregnancy test and, you know, John and I are so thrilled or whatever, you know, things like that. I heard a lot of people saying they’d taken them. I didn’t, they didn’t know that I was involved with them. That kind of, so that’s just kind of fun to hear that. And, and, and young women that I, I did know who knew that I was working on it, told me what it meant to them to take the test. So, uh, yeah, I think now I’m very proud of, of that. I’m very happy that that happened and I had part of it.

Anne Noyes Saini: And did, has the company ever sort of acknowledged or credited you in any way that, that isn’t financial?

Meg Crane: No, no. People didn’t know I’ve done this and, and uh, um, you know, I, I don’t want to go bragging about it. You know, I just, you know, it’s very, very hard to keep it back. Sometimes I do want to tell people and I know this has been done and it’s, you know, Smithsonian has it, but I have to be careful.

Anne Noyes Saini: When the auction was sort of announced and publicized, and journalists started coming and asking for interviews, was that the first time that anybody had sort of come to you and acknowledged, uh, your work and your contribution?

Meg Crane: Yeah. Yes, it was. Nobody knew, really, would have reason to know, you know, that’s..

Anne Noyes Saini: Did it, did it feel, um, like almost anticlimactic after so long? Or did it feel like, yes, this is appropriate?

Meg Crane: Hmm, it’s both. That’s, that’s crazy you know. It does seem anticlimactic in some ways. Um, um, because I wish Ira was here for this. I really do. That’s part of it. And, um and I’m grateful for my family to pushing me to, to, to get something done on this. I really think it had to be and I’m 75 now, I should do something now with it before it’s, you know, and, um, uh, so I’m, I’m glad it’s done. I’m glad it happened. And, um, even for whatever credit is coming down this way, it’s fine.

Amy Gastelum: I’m Amy Gastelum Gastelum. You’ve been listening to Making Contact. For more information, visit our website, Until next week.

Author: Radio Project

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