The hunt for the red plus sign

A 1978 ad for EPT, showing the at-home chemistry test.

Thirty-five years ago, EPT’s original home pregnancy test looked like a chemistry set. It took anxious women around two hours to find out the good (or bad) news.

Nevertheless, it was a breakthrough, allowing women to know reliably whether or not they were in the early stages of pregnancy without visiting the family physician.  And even though it was bulky and big, they could still buy it for about $10 at their local drugstore.

In addition to being a technological innovation, this original kit represents a cultural and regulatory landmark, making it a desirable addition to collections at medical history museums and even government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, which approved the device in 1976. But, perplexingly, no one can seem to find one of these original kits.

The Dittrick Medical History Museum, home to the Percy Skuy Collection — the largest collection of historical contraceptive devices in the world — hasn’t given up hope. 

Dittrick’s staff has faith that an original home pregnancy test will turn up since they have more than 400 IUDs in their collection.

“Who would think that someone would save their IUD?” said Jennifer Kane Nieves, registrar and archivist at the museum about another groundbreaking reproductive device. “But we’ve gotten plenty of them.”

The biggest challenge in finding one is the nature of the kit itself, said James Edmonson, chief curator.
“They’re meant to be used and discarded,” he said.  “But sometimes, things turn up in curious places.”

 All pluses

   
The kits’ broad appeal was understandable, says Sarah Leavitt, who developed a Web exhibit for the NIH on the history of the home pregnancy test. “[The kit] can address a lot of different stories, including the history of choice and medical testing,” she says.



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