The roots of today’s disposable diaper begin with work done by Procter & Gamble. In 1956, P&G engineer Victor Mills set up a small-scale project to investigate disposable diapers. In 1957, P&G purchased the Charmin Paper Company. It believed it could expand the market for disposable diapers with its newly acquired expertise in absorbent paper products and its prior abilities in mass production and distribution.
P&G initially developed a two-piece diaper featuring a folded insert for improved fit and absorbency. After market testing, P&G focused on a simple, one-piece rectangular diaper consisting of a hydrophobic rayon liner to help keep moisture in the diaper and an outer covering made of plastic. Its edges were pleated to provide a better fit around the legs, and it was attached with safety pins. Its name was Pampers, and it was launched in Peoria, IL, in 1961.
Though highly rated by consumers, disposable diaper sales were disappointing due to prices four or five times above those of cotton diapers. P&G then developed a new manufacturing process to improve production and decrease size and cost. In 1964, the new design was ready for a test market at 6 cents per diaper. Pampers quickly sold out and the brand was on its way to quickly becoming a success story.
Other manufacturers quickly introduced their own products. Kimberly-Clark had worked on disposable diapers for years before introducing Kimbies in 1968. They took the rectangular diaper and shaped it to more closely fit a baby’s body. Kimbies featured other innovations that became industry standards: a new absorbent material made of fluff pulp instead of tissue pulp, a spun-bonded polypropylene liner, and adhesive tape fasteners.
In 1971, Johnson & Johnson began to phase out the original Chux line in favor of a new premium design with an especially soft feel and sold under the company’s brand name. By 1980, disposables accounted for more than 90 percent of all diaper changes in the US.
Diaper sales grew globally with a series of innovations from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, including a superior fitted shape with elastic leg openings introduced in 1976 on P&G’s Luvs brand. Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex Super Dry, launched in 1977 and renamed Huggies the following year, also featured a superior fitted shape and elastic leg openings and could be manufactured in high volume. Sold at a price point between Pampers and Luvs, Huggies became a huge success in the United States and passed Pampers as the leading brand in the market in the late-1980s.