Past Times

Postwar diaper service met a booming need in Raleigh

Diapers went through a rigorous, multistep cleaning process.
Diapers went through a rigorous, multistep cleaning process. N&O FILE PHOTO

In the midst of the postwar baby boom, one Raleigh couple capitalized on the new market and opened Raleigh Diaper Service.

Through its rental system, the service supplies hospitals and clinics and more than 1,000 customers in Raleigh and a 60-mile radius of the city with a fresh supply of diapers twice weekly.

At all times, the service has approximately 72,000 diapers in circulation among its individual customers and approximately 60,000 in circulation among hospitals and clinics.

Channeling the two-way flood of diapers that flow into and out of the plant at 407 E. Davie Street is pretty, blue-eyed Mrs. Eileen McDonald, owner of the service. Her husband, James C. McDonald, owns the Home Ice Company and the Drive-In Cleaners here. The McDonalds have an eight-year-old son.

There seems to be little connection between teaching chemistry and physics and running a diaper service. Nevertheless, that is the road which Mrs. McDonald traveled in arriving at her present position. For a number of years prior to the opening of the Raleigh Diaper Service – the first in North Carolina – back in 1944, energetic Mrs. McDonald taught these subjects in the Durham schools.…

The diaper service works like this: The customer makes a deposit of $5, which is refunded when service is completed and diapers returned to the company. The average customer uses the service about 18 months.

For the first five dozen there is a charge of $1.50, and for each additional dozen there is a charge of 25 cents. The average baby uses about seven dozen a week, but the customer may order as few or as many as she wishes. …

Service is given to temporary residents or visitors to Raleigh, and regular customers may take their supply with them on vacation.

Altogether, there are 11 different kinds of diapers, and the service stocks all 11 types. Among them are knitted diapers, flannel diapers, snap-on, grip-on, no-fold, no-pin, and kite diapers.

Diapers owned by the service usually last only about two months, chiefly because of prolonged washing in hot water and live steam, according to Mrs. McDonald. Here’s the procedure:

(1) Five-minute cold rinse; (2) 10-minute soak in hot suds; (3) 10-minute soak in hot suds; (4) 10-minute soak in hot suds, with bleach; (5) five hot rinses with live steam; (6) six cold rinses, and a germicide solution is used in the third cold rinse; (7) water is extracted; (8) dried in tumblers under 125 pounds of live steam; (9) ready for folding and packing.

“Yes, we have lots of repeat customers,” Mrs. McDonald smiled. “Once, we had a customer who used about 32 dozen a week and that’s 384 a week. She had twins and a single child, all of whom were in the diaper stage. …”

One morning Mrs. McDonald answered the phone, and the individual calling gave the address and asked, so Mrs. McDonald thought, that diapers be sent for “my little darling.”

Although she was somewhat puzzled at the manner of speech, Mrs. McDonald directed the driver to take a half-week’s supply to the address. When the driver arrived, he was greeted by a little girl who clapped her hands and, all smiles, exclaimed: “Why, you’ve brought diapers for my little doll.”

But the people who amuse Mrs. McDonald most are the new fathers. “They come rushing in all excited, ready to take the mother and baby home from the hospital,” she related. “Their wives have told them to get some diapers. They don’t know what they want. When we ask what kind, how many, they gape and say, ‘Do you have more than one kind? Do you have to know how many? Gosh, I don’t know.’

“They don’t know what it’s all about. They need help and that’s what we try to give them.” The N&O March 11, 1951

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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