Pinterest tag Who Invented Pads? The History of Pads | Rael
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Who Invented Pads?

Pads feel like a home base for most of us. They offer a level of protection you can feel and security we’ve all learned to trust. At Rael, we focus on creating the softest, safest pads available. If you use them, you already know; no pad can compare to the comfort of Rael’s pads and liners. 

Pads weren’t always so plush and absorbent. Menstruating women have been using methods of period collection since the dawn of time, and some of those methods were pretty barbaric. Pads are no exception.

From rabbit fur to stiff, uncomfortable tweed, we’ll cover what’s been covering pads since the 1800s and how we got to the soft, super-absorbent products we use today.

How It Started

There are records of feminine hygiene that date back to early Egyptian times. Women used rudimentary materials for protection like rags, sheep’s wool, cotton, and even rabbit fur to collect menstrual flow. 

As early as the 10th century, ancient Grecian gals were making their own “pads” by sewing together reusable rags made from these materials. Unfortunately, because they didn’t have a means of keeping the pads in place, being on their period usually meant they were confined to sitting down most of the time. 

Menstrual Pads in Europe

In the 1800s, nurses in France developed a type of super absorbent napkin made from wood pulp. These napkins worked as wound care dressings on the battlefield. Wood pulp was the perfect material because it could absorb much more than its weight in blood. 

Around 1888, the Southall brothers, who lived in England, built upon this technology and introduced a sanitary napkin designed to hold menstrual flow. This was the first time a pad that could absorb more than its weight was available and offered a more comfortable material to tweed, which women used before this invention. There was just one to advertise it.

Advertising for menstrual pads was considered taboo, and as such, not many women knew of the availability of the Southall pad. 

Pads In the United States

U.S. inventors weren’t having much luck either. Johnson & Johnson piggybacked on the Southall brother’s invention and produced the Lister sanitary napkin, a disposable and super absorbent pad. However, they, too, found it impossible to market.

Even women who did know about the Lister and Southall pad typically couldn’t afford it. These pads were disposable, which meant they had to be repurchased each month. Most women simply couldn’t afford to purchase disposable period care, so reusable rags and cloths remained the norm. 

Other Early Period Products

By the early 1900s, problems were arising due to the uncleanliness of reusable rags and cloths. Infections and irritations due to reusable cloths and rags were common, and inventors were actively attempting to develop alternatives.

Around this time, the menstrual cup was invented, but the first cups were nothing like the comfortable, flexible silicone cups we have today. The first cups were made from hard rubber or (wait for it) aluminum. Cringe. 

The tampon, as we know it, was introduced during this period of “menstrual enlightenment.” Earl Haas, a doctor, and husband, developed the first tampons for his wife, which may just make him the best husband of all time. 

Tampons didn’t take off right away. It was considered taboo to use them, so it was important that the menstrual pad level up, which it definitely did.  

What Happened?

Tampons weren’t thought of as appropriate, leaving hard aluminum menstrual cups, rags, and pricey disposable pads as the only other methods of period care. A change needed to be made, and it took a woman named Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner to revolutionize the maxi pad industry.

Mary filed for a patent in 1957 for a sanitary belt she developed that would allow women to use reusable cloth materials, but with the convenience of a water-resistant lined pouch that would give them more security. 

Her water-resistant lining became the foundation for the types of pads we use today that have a waterproof backing to protect against leaks and accidents. Without waterproofing, you’d be left with a pad that might absorb well but would leak through to your clothing the split second it is full. Thanks, Mary.

The Disposable Pad Gains Popularity

The waterproof lining also gave women the ability to leave their homes while they were on their period, something most women didn’t attempt to do until Kenner’s invention. 

Pads with belts were used right up until the 1970s, when it became more affordable for companies to produce disposable pads, and the average working woman could actually buy them. 

Small improvements to pads were made throughout the 1980s, like the addition of better adhesive materials to help them stay in place, wings for better protection, and different absorbances for better comfort during various stages of your period. 

Modern Day Pads Today

Today, we know we have many options when we shop for maxi pads, including the development of panty liners, a type of maxi pad made for extremely light days, or for using along with other period care products, like tampons or cups. 


When disposable pads were first mass-produced, they were seriously massive and not known for their comfort level. Today, pads are made with better materials that can absorb more fluid with less material, giving you a much more comfortable level of protection. 

Rael offers five different sizes of pads: petite, regular, large, overnight, and XL overnight. No matter where you are on your period, we’ve got a pad that will keep you comfortable and protected. 

Safer Materials

Old-school pads were made with questionable materials that probably weren’t safe (or environmentally friendly). Even today, some pads can contain harsh chemicals that could irritate your most sensitive skin or be harmful to your body. 

Rael’s pads are all crafted from 100 percent organic Texas cotton and chlorine-free natural pulp to keep you secure and safe from ingredients that could disrupt your hormones or inflame your skin. 

Scented Pads

Not all the improvements to maxi pads have been beneficial. Scented pads were introduced as an “enhanced” pad that would help keep you feeling fresher; however, scented pads are not only unnecessary, they could be dangerous to your health. 

Scented pads are bad for your body because they typically contain ingredients that shouldn’t be used on your skin or could be classified as a carcinogen. Your period naturally has an earthy, organic scent that is light and only noticeable to you. If you’re smelling something more, talk to your doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying issue. 

Reusable Today

If you love pads but want to make your period more eco-friendly, reusable pads have come a long way since the 1800s! No longer made from materials that could chafe or irritate your skin, reusable pads are comfortable, completely sanitary, and seriously cost and environmentally effective. 

Rael’s reusable pads are made from organic cotton and crafted with a waterproof backing that keeps you protected. No need to worry about itchy, stiff material or whether or not they’ll still offer the same great level of protection that our disposable pads do. Reusable pads are safe, effective, and easy to use. 

Caring for reusable pads is easy, too. They can be washed in your washing machine and reused up to 120 times with proper care, saving you money and reducing your carbon footprint. 

Get Rael

Pads have come a long way since ancient cultures used animal fur and scrap rags to collect menstrual flow. Thanks to some serious advances in technology and fabric choice, today’s pads are super absorbent, reliable, and uber comfortable. 

If pads aren’t for you, that’s okay. We live in an age that offers numerous different options for period care. From cups to tampons to pads and liners, there’s no reason you can’t be completely comfortable every single day of your period. 

At Rael, we’re with you your entire cycle. We offer products that keep you protected, comfortable, and confident no matter what your period brings. We think you can feel empowered by your period if you have the right products and attitude. 

With organic cotton pads and the confidence you get with Rael, you can feel empowered and impossible to stop. 


The History of the Sanitary Pad | Femme International 

Ads for early Southall's disposable menstrual pads in the UK at MUM | 

Lister's Towels: History of Johnson & Johnson's First Sanitary Napkins | Johnson & Johnson Our Story 

Period Products | UT Health 

The Pioneering Black Inventor Who Radically Changed the Menstrual Pad | ProChoice

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