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For Find Out Fridays! Week 4- The Birth of the Home Pregnancy Test

I consider myself a pretty creative person. I am a writer, photographer, researcher, party planner, and travel agent, just to name a few of my unofficial titles. This is why I am always so busy in my personal life. There is always something to plan to do, accomplish and share. Never mind all of my family and friends who take advantage, I mean need my services. If I ever started charging them I would become a millionaire in an instant. So if I know you and you have received some of this special treatment from me without receiving an invoice count yourself lucky. Despite my talents I do not think i could ever be an inventor. 

During the normal course of my week I was reading my New York Times and Cosmopolitan magazine. I was stunned to find two articles about Margaret Crane, an inventor who has not gotten nearly enough attention. Her invention as you can see from the title was the home pregnancy test. It is now a $40 million industry but without Ms. Crane there would be no such pie to divide up. Her idea happened matter-of-factly one day in a “flash of genius” moment.

The term “flash of genius” has been imprinted within my mind since I saw the movie by the same name in 2008. It tells the lifelong story of Robert Williams Kearns and his struggle against Ford Motor Company and subsequently Chrysler Corporation for his idea and creation of the intermittent windshield wiper systems used on most automobiles from 1969 on. When he presented it to them originally he was of course denied the usefulness to his face but then the companies turned around and starting installing them without paying him so much as a nickel. His idea had already been patented some years earlier thus to court they went. It was the law then that said a true inventor has a “flash of genius” moment.

This is Robert Kearns story:

“The inspiration for his invention stems from an incident on his wedding night in 1953, when an errant champagne cork shot into his left eye, leaving him legally blind in that eye. Nearly a decade later in 1963, Kearns was driving his Ford Galaxie through a light rain, and the constant movement of the wiper blades irritated his already troubled vision. He modeled his mechanism on the human eye, which blinks every few seconds, rather than continuously.”

The basis of the judgment, which ultimately was a thirty million dollar settlement, had many consequences such as his wife divorcing him, distant relationships with his children, and spending his life as his own attorney. He spent about ten million dollars in legal fees. But a principal is a principal.

When I read the stories of Ms. Crane (how she was referred to in the articles) it made me think of Robert Kearns and his “flash of genius” moment. While her story is a lot less dramatic she was still struck with a flash after seeing how doctor’s processed pregnancy tests in a lab and thinking of how much easier it would be if a woman could learn about her own body in her own surroundings without a man (doctor) telling you, which was the normal in those years.

Ms. Crane’s process went like this:

“Inside a clear plastic box that had been holding paper clips on her desk, Ms. Crane fitted an eyedropper, along with a test tube that sat just above a mirror. The customer would squeeze a few drops of urine into the tube, and then peer through the transparent wall of the box at the mirror. In its reflection, she could watch the bottom of the test tube, where a compound was reacting with the drops. If, in two hours, a red circle appeared, she was pregnant.”

Her invention was created in 1967 but didn’t go on sale to the public until ten years later, in 1977. There was fear of doctor’s losing business or that women were too stupid a.k.a. emotional to understand how to use the tests.

Long story short Ms. Crane bursted into a meeting her bosses were having about a home pregnancy prototype (naturally without notifying her) and she stuck her version on the table to be considered. Clearly it was her idea that stole the show.  To show her generosity she sold her patent for one dollar, which she apparently never received. Figures. Robert Kearns would not be pleased.

My favorite part is that prior to being an inventor Ms. Crane was an artist, not someone who had a medical profession. After though she moved on and in with one of her bosses and they went on to have a lifelong romance working together as advertising executives.

Without Ms. Crane’s invention there would not be the many home testing kits I see every time I am at the pharmacy. I can’t believe what I see, like the home test for cocaine, which definitely took me by surprise. But I guess if you have a need there should be a supply. The HIV home test kits were invented back in the 1980’s although stigma and fear of what the reaction would be, held them back from being sold in stores until 2012.  I guess no one is safe to learn about themselves by themselves.

But by now shouldn’t we as humans be able to accept that we are built to deal with complex emotions? I guess we are a society of slow learners.

During this week I found out about a series on YouTube called “It’s Ok To Be Smart”. I think it is a genius idea. This bright young Ph.D tackles a wide range of topics explaining how they came to be. This week it was about salt and pepper and how that combination came to be a staple in all of our homes and restaurants.

Watch the video below to find out more about their connection:

It just goes to show you that anyone is capable of anything.

I am glad that this series is doing what I hoped it would, educating us about why we do the rituals that are apart of our everyday life.

Next Friday I hope to answer the burning questions from your lives.

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