The history of “The Pregnancy Test”

In light of all the pregnancy test related news of late, this:

Have you ever wanted to know how the modern pregnancy test came about?  There is a long bizarre history to the development of the one-step early detection tests we have on the market today.

The ancient Egyptians had women urinate on bags of wheat and bags of barley. If wheat sprouted, it was a girl. If barley sprouted, it was a boy. If neither did, there was no pregnancy. Just so you know, urine on wheat and barley can’t detect pregnancy. Don’t try it at home.

The Greeks lined the genitals with perfumed linen. If the woman’s mouth and nose took on the odor of the perfume, she was pregnant. Eww.

Medieval doctors would dip a needle in a woman’s urine. Depending on whether the needle rusted red or black, determined if the woman was pregnant.  They also sprinkled sulfur on urine, they thought if worms suddenly appeared was indication of pregnancy. Um okay. Sure.  Doctors even mixed urine with wine which was interesting and at least close to what we know is true today given that wine has certain proteins that react to HCG.


Oh Rats! It was thought that injection of a pregnant woman’s urine in to rats would send them into heat. A few days after the injection, scientists dissected the rats  to get the results. To keep the results from being skewed by naturally horny rats, scientists routinely used baby rats, who hadn’t yet developed the propensity to be horny yet.

Rascilly Rabits!
– The rabbit test has made it into many pop culture references. The phrase, “the rabbit died” came to imply pregnancy. However, this test was short lived because the rabbit usually died if the woman was pregnant or not. They just couldn’t live with urine in their blood. Doh!

But the rabbits, rats, and frogs tests couldn’t distinguish between another common hormone,  luteinizing hormone (LH) and the pregnancy-related hormone hCG unless the hCG level was very high The tests were expensive, and took days to run. And you can imagine, there were plenty of false positives. Not good!

The  1960s
– Scientists first got into looking into antibodies when they swished hCG from the lab with anti-hCG antibodies and a urine sample from the woman. If the cells clustered in a certain way, the woman was pregnant.  No animals were used and it didn’t take long to discover, only a few hours, but it required a lot of very expensive lab work.  Not very practical or cost effective for the common woman. The process involved immunoassays. Immunoassays were cheaper, and slightly more sensitive, but it still mixed up with hCGs, and led to plenty of  false positives.

The 1970s – In the early 1970s, scientists at the National Institute of Health, discovered a special antibody that targeted only hCG, that also was not found the hormone LH. Eureka! We found it! With that last innovation done, the consumer market was allowed to flourish! 

It took a little while, but in 1978, women’s magazines began advertising the first in-home pregnancy tests!  They cost just ten dollars and included a vial of purified water, an eye dropper, a test tube stand with a mirror at the bottom that let users observe what was going on in the tube with the mixture of solutions which also included some sheep’s blood.  The test was 97% accurate for positive results, and 80% accurate for for negative results.

The 1980s – Researchers got to work and created simple one-step tests.

The 1990s – We saw the use of enzyme indicators, which were quicker, easier and more accurate.
Today – Now we have digital screens and early testing capabilities which can detect pregnancy two weeks after the first missed period.  With some tests, pregnancy can be detected after 8 days of ovulation and you can get results within minutes!
There you have it! The history of the pregnancy test. 
Thanks for the i09 for research sources.

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