When it hit shelves in the 1970s, the Predictor pregnancy test, made by Organon Pharmaceuticals, went for $10. On Tuesday, the auction house Bonham’s sold the original prototype, along with the first consumer version of the test, for $11,875.
The Predictor was the brainchild of a freelance designer named Margaret Crane, who had been hired in Organon in 1967 to work on a new cosmetics line. While touring the company’s lab, she wrote in a note accompanying the Bonham’s sale,
I noticed multiple lines of test tubes suspended over a mirrored surface. I was told that they were pregnancy tests ... Each test tube contained reagents which when combined with a pregnant women's urine, would display a red ring at the base of the test tube, as reflected in the mirror.
Inspired, she set to work developing a simplified version of the test: At her home in New York, she assembled a plastic paper-clip holder, a mirror, a test tube, and a dropper, and presented her kit to Organon a few months later. In 1969, the company applied for a patent in her name.
“I thought how simple that was,” she recalled of seeing the tests for the first time, according to Bonham’s. “A woman should be able to do that herself.”
Simple, though, had been a long time in the making.
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A long, long time before women peed on sticks, they peed on plenty of other things.
One of the oldest descriptions of a pregnancy test comes from ancient Egypt, where women who suspected they were pregnant would urinate on wheat and barley seeds: If the wheat grew, they believed, it meant the woman was having a girl; the barley, a boy; if neither plant sprouted, she wasn’t pregnant at all. Avicenna, a 10th-century Persian philosopher, would pour sulfur over women’s urine, believing that the telltale sign was worms springing from the resulting mixture. In 16th-century Europe, specialists known as “piss prophets” would read urine like tea leaves, claiming to know by its appearance alone whether the woman who supplied it was pregnant.