Saturday, April 30, 2016

Meg Crane, Inventor

Meg Crane, 1965
Meg Crane invented the first pregnancy test that women could administer themselves. She faced obstacles from companies and health organizations that didn't think women could handle the task, and never collected any money.

"A woman should have the right to be the first to know if she was pregnant, and not have to wait weeks for an answer." ~ Meg Crane

Meg Crane was freelance designer living in New York when she was hired by Organon Pharmaceuticals to work on a new cosmetics line. When she was in the lab, she noticed lines of test tubes suspended over a mirrored surface. She asked what they were.

These were pregnancy tests, she was told, sold by Organon to doctors so they could administer them to women. Looking at the devices, Meg was struck by their simplicity - a sample of the patient's urine was added to a test tube containing a chemical solution, was suspended over a small mirror.

If the addition of the sample resulted in a small red ring forming at the bottom of the test tube (as reflected in the mirror), then the urine sample contained hormones associated with pregnancy. If no ring formed and the solution was cloudy, then the hormones that indicate pregnancy were not present.

As she looked at the tests, Meg had one thought in mind: "A woman should be able to do that herself."

Meg's motivation was not political, it was simply based on logic. She also understood that at that time, if a woman wanted to know if she was pregnant she had to visit a doctor, leave a sample of urine, then wait as the sample was sent off to a lab like Organon's, sometimes waiting weeks to hear the answer. When the results finally came, this highly personal information would most likely be communicated by a male figure of authority that she has little relationship with.

Pregnancy was on a lot of American women's minds at that time. It was the 1960s, and the era of the sexual revolution. The pill had become available early in the decade, but if you were a single woman it could be very hard to get a doctor to prescribe it - doctors weren't simply handing them out. It was also prior to Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to an abortion, so pregnant women at that time had even fewer options.

Meg understood all these things, and that a woman's concerns, fears, hopes, or doubts regarding pregnancy were highly variable and personal. Viewing the test itself, she could not help but see it as an opportunity to help women maintain their privacy as they rightfully sought to learn if they were pregnant.

The prototype

Back home in New York, Meg experimented with different containers and mirror devices. She knew the device didn't have to be complex, but was having trouble coming up with the right design. One day her attention was caught by a small plastic box on her desk that she used to hold paperclips. "It was perfect," Meg would describe later. "It was the exact size to hold the components needed for the test."

For the mirror at the base, Meg cut a piece of Mylar to fit at an angle. Then she created a shelf with holes in it, to suspend the dropper and the test tube. She added a cap that could be used to collect urine.

She approached Organon with her prototype, but they rejected it - as they were in the business of selling the existing tests and lab services to doctors and made about half of their profits that way, they thought it made no sense. No, they told Meg, they can't do it - not only did they fear loosing their business, but they worried no doctors would want to be associated with them.

Still, the invention was something Meg felt had to happen. She kept bringing it up to executives, and when the Organon Vice President made a trip to AZKO, Organon's parent company in the Netherlands, the concept came up.

AZKO was much more liberal than the executives in the US, and they granted a small budget so the team could start developing marketing ideas and consumer testing.
On the left: Meg's home pregnancy test prototype from 1968.
On the right: the first Predictor consumer product from 1971,
made by Chefaro labs in Canada. Sold at auction by Bonhams, 2015.
Even with permission and money to do research, not everyone at Organon was on board with the idea. They feared the repercussions of the commercial labs and wondered if their other products would be threatened. Others objected on moral grounds, linking pregnancy to abortion and stating that women had not right to do the testing themselves, and it would bring the wrath of church hierarchies upon them.

The most common objections had to do with the capabilities of women, however. What if a woman administered the test herself, found out she was pregnant, then killed herself?

This was a very real concern expressed by companies and medical organizations around the world, including Great Britain, who had just made this type of testing available. In 1969 the British Medical Association warned, "Women who apply for pregnancy tests to perform themselves instead of going to doctors may be risking their lives, as women who are not happy with a positive result may do something drastic."

So, the biggest issue was the doctors and others in the late 1960s thought that women could not handle learning they they were pregnant, without having a doctor present to counsel her. Meg knew this made no sense - "Just as a woman, I thought, why couldn't you know this yourself?"

The company pushed forward with developing the design. Meg was not invited to join the meeting of product managers and executives where different designs would be presented, but she went anyway.

More delicate flowers

In the boardroom, the various designs from product managers were laid out on a table. Some had purple diamonds on them, some had flowers, one even had a tassel on top. Meg's design was not very elegant but she put it at the end of the table next to the others, and stepped back.

They were soon joined by Ira Sturtevant, a representative from one of the advertising agencies. Ira reviewed all the designs, stopping at Meg's. "This is what we are using now, aren't we?" he asked.

Ira was interested in Meg's design for its simplicity, but others in the room dismissed it, saying no, that's just something Meg developed for talking purposes - and besides, it would be too expensive to produce in large quantities.

Meg didn't give up on her idea. She took a few days off work and looked in the Yellow Pages for  plastics companies in New York, then began visiting them. She wanted to know who would be able to make her box at a lower cost. After many visits where "everyone gave me someone else to see," she met with a company that said they would be able to produce Meg's box for less.

Meg presented her redesigned prototype to Organon, and it was 30% less than what some of the other product designs would cost. They chose Meg's design.

Besides finding success professionally, the meeting in the board room would also lead to success for Meg personally, as she would go on to date and then marry Ira Sturtevant, the man from the advertising agency who had been sent in to review the designs.

Product Launch

Organon launched the product in Canada under the name Predictor in 1971, but there was still resistance to it in the US. "It's immoral," Meg was told over and over by the executives at Organon, "What if a Senator's daughter takes the test, then jumps off a bridge. We would lose all our business!"

Organon's parent company believed in the concept, however, and these opinions could not hold back progress forever. In 1977 the product became available in the US, and over the next few years, it very quickly became a successful product worldwide. By 1987, the leading brand EPT had sold over 10 million devices.

Reward

For her part, Meg never received any financial compensation for her idea and design. When the company decided to patent the idea in 1969 to prepare for the upcoming product launch, Meg could not afford to pay the fees for the application so she signed her rights over to Organon, and they patented it for her.

Meg had never been interested in money, but she tells those who seek advice from her today to be sure to get a lawyer, if you are ever in a situation with a company where they have lawyers present, and you do not: "Just walk away," she says. "Don't sign anything, just leave and get your own lawyer."

Looking back on her actions, she admits "I was very naive, extremely. I just wanted this product to exist."

Meg kept the prototype for 40 years until June 2015, when, perhaps having some idea of what it represented, she put it up for auction in New York. The prototype was purchased for nearly $12,000 by a curator for the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC. The prototype now sits in a humidity-controlled space next to other prestigious medical artifacts in the museum's History of Medicine and Science Collection.

Meg founded the Ponzi & Weill Inc. advertising and design company in 1968 with her late husband, Ira, and has enjoyed a lifelong career as a graphic designer and illustrator. Ira passed away after 42 years of marriage.

To this day Meg is an example of what a woman can do. Not only did she identify an opportunity for women to start controlling a process they could readily handle themselves, but she fought for their right to do so.

Sources:
  • Lot 37: Crane, Margaret, Inventor - The First Home Pregnancy Test, Bonhams, Bonhams.com, 2016. 
  • Interview with Meg Crane, Rejected Princesses Blog, RejectedPrincesses.com, 2016.
  • From Frogs to Wands of Destiny: The Invention of the Home Pregnancy Test, Mother Podcast, PRX, MotherPodcast.com. November 22nd, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment