It amazes and shocks people when they learn that the modern menstrual cup was actually invented in the early 1930s, around the same time as the tampon. It could be argued that the concept of the cup, in earlier patents referred to as “catamenial receptacle” was conceived even before the ubiquitous tampon. While there were patents filed for very early “menstrual cup-like devices” as early as the mid-19th century, let’s begin with the earliest cups that are the closest to our modern cups.
I want to give my gratitude to Harry Finley of the Museum of Menstruation (MUM) for his tireless work preserving menstrual cup history and the research he has done to make many of these discoveries known. I was thrilled to gain his permission to include images from his website in this post.
What you’ll find through this brief and fascinating journey through the history of menstrual cups is that this entire industry has thrived and grown through the desire to improve the lives of women and menstruators around the world. Each new design was a reaction to a previous design with the driving force being “how can I make this better?” Just like in other industries, the innovators of the modern menstrual cup movement were all inspired by their predecessors.
We begin the menstrual cup history journey with the 1930’s Daintette and Chalmers Cup, then in the 1950’s the Tasette cup. In the 1970’s we see a disposable cup from Tassaway, and the late 1980’s brings menstrual cups back with The Keeper Cup in the US. The Keeper Cup enjoys no competition for 15 years until 2002/2003 when MoonCup UK and The DivaCup start their brands; both started out as distributors of The Keeper Cup. In 2010 the menstrual product industry sees exponential growth in new brands and designs.
The First Modern Menstrual Cup Patent: 1932
The patent for what became the Daintette was filed in 1932. The device looks as modern as cups manufactured today. It was made of natural rubber in a beautiful shade of green and was most likely sold by way of “tupperware parties” of the day. Saleswomen would host parties to sell this and other products by Dainty Maid. A very similar cup, the Foldene, was also available in this time period. It appears, but it is not confirmed, the Daintette and Folden brands were connected but very little is known about when they started selling their cups and if the companies were linked. While the patent for Daintette is the earliest filed for a recognizable menstrual cup it has never been determined if their commercial availability was earlier than the Leona Chalmers cup (1937.)
The 1st Leona Chalmers Patent: 1937
This patent and menstrual cup by Leona Chalmers is most often credited as the first commercially sold menstrual cup. The patent was filed in 1937. She also describes the function of her cup in a book she authored, dated 1937. I am thrilled to have found a physical copy of this book.
Leona Chalmers writes in her book “It is truly a God send to professional and business women.”
The Tasette Cup and Leona Chalmer’s 2nd Patent: 1950’s
In 1950 Leona Chalmers filed her 2nd patent for an improved design to her menstrual cup. Novel enhancements included air vents to aid in removing the cup (used today) and a cut-out in the stem to allow the users to place to loop a string if they so desired. This patent was purchased by Robert Oreck and in 1959 he began the company Tasette. He hired Leona Chalmers as a consultant and face for the Tasette Cup brand.
Production began and they advertised the product, with discretion because of the taboos surrounding menstruation. Targeting nurses with mailer advertisements, Oreck hoped to grow the brand through their testimonials. Notably, the brand was able to erect a cheeky billboard in Timesquare that depicted the cup as a tulip. Advertising personal care products was a challenge at that time but most readers would have recognized the veiled speech and inuendos used to market period products. FLOW The Cultural History of Menstruation is a fascinating book covering advertising of period products through history. When WWII created a rubber shortage, coupled with the apprehension of users to try such an intimately used device, the Tasette faded away by 1960. More information on Tasette’s history can be found on MUM.org.
The Tassaway Disposable Cup: 1970’s
Reading the room and understanding that tampons won the internal period protection war, thanks in part to the rubber shortage that slowed production and their more convenient (throwaway) design, Robert Oreck released a disposable version of the Tasette Cup, called the Tassaway. In the patent, it’s referred to as being “flushable” and of a “limited degree of water solubility” so that it would hold together long enough to be worn for a period but would break down in the water. How true either of these claims is is unclear but I sincerely question the flushability of the cup.
The company also filed a patent for an insertion aid for their cup, hoping to address the other reason buyers seemed hesitant to use a menstrual cup over tampons. This quite frightening-looking product seems to never have been manufactured or sold.
This effort was very short-lived, but more so due to the financial crimes of the company.
The Keeper Cup: 1987
Keeper, Inc began what we think of now as the modern reusable menstrual care industry. According to Keeper Cup’s own website, their origins began when the founder, Lou Crawford, contacted the makers of the last commercial menstrual cup to ask for help bringing it back. It’s not explicitly stated but I assume this refers to the Tasette since Lou Crawford had owned and used a Tassette. They [Tasette] had no interest in starting up again but supported Lou in bringing the cup back. The original Keeper was born in 1987, made of natural rubber. The Keeper took a different marketing approach and relied on the environmental movement and word of mouth as a way to sell their product. It was natural, waste-free, and possibly safer than tampons during a time when toxic-shock syndrome was a top news story.
As the first and only menstrual cup available The Keeper was distributed and sold through various websites and stores. One distributor, owners of Keeper.com in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, eventually created their own popular menstrual cup. On TheKeeperStore.com (1999) I found this sales pitch “For those concerned about difficulties in the year 2000, The Keeper may be very handy to have…. The female scientists of Biosphere 2 chose it as their form of feminine protection while in their enclosed environment in Oracle, Arizona in 1992.” Talk about a time capsule.
On Keeperinc.com’s 2000 website you can find the cup was sold for $35.00 plus $2.00 shipping in the US (around $57 in 2021, adjusting for inflation.) With no competition, Keeper was able to sell their cups for a higher price for the time and justify it with the long-lasting lifespan of their product.
The company still exists today and sells its original rubber Keeper, and its silicone model (MoonCup.) Their cups sell for $35 today, in line with similar brands that have driven the price down through competition.
The history of “MoonCup” and the rights to this name is a tangled web… MoonCup in the US refers to The Keeper’s silicone model. In the UK, MoonCup is the name of another brand, however, to add to the confusion, Keeper was sold by the name “Moon Cup” until 2002 in the UK.
Keeper.com was originally owned by distributors of the cup. It appears that at some point in the early 2000’s it was acquired by Keeper, Inc, the manufacturers and owners of the brand.
The MoonCup (UK): 2002
Su started MoonCup found the menstrual cup fever but wanted a more comfortable solution than the rubber cup she had tried. After being a distributor of The Keeper in the UK for a few years, selling it under the name “Moon Cup,” Su created her own menstrual cup design. Part of the motivation to design a cup stemmed from an allergic reaction to rubber. She developed a cup design and manufactured it in medical-grade silicone; it was the first reusable menstrual cup made in silicone. People in Europe often refer to menstrual cups as a “Moon Cup” because of their popularity. MoonCup recently updated their logo and branding but have stayed true to their cup’s design and shape for many years. MoonCup’s 2013 YouTube video, a rap battle between cups and tampons, was part of the next menstrual cup boom.
The DivaCup: 2003
Started in 2003 by a mother and daughter, The DivaCup has gone on to claim the status of the most widely sold menstrual cup worldwide today. Francine Chambers discovered the menstrual cup concept and she and her daughter Carinne Chambers sold Keeper Cups for ten years before developing their own take on the design.
Their innovation was a modern molding method for manufacturing and the material – medical grade silicone. Many people in North America today refer to menstrual cups as “Diva Cups.” The design of The DivaCup’s original two sizes has not changed in 20 years. They did introduce a third, smaller teen-sized cup, in 2019. They’ve also refreshed their branding. Notably, The DivaCup has advertised in more mainstream places than any other menstrual cup brand, including Hulu streaming service ads, major fashion magazine spreads, billboards, and a Times Square digital billboard. They have the distinction of being the #1 selling menstrual cup brand in the world.
The Cup Boom: 2010 – Present
If I had to pinpoint a date when the menstrual cup industry expanded exponentially I’d say it was 2010. Renewed interest in reusable products (cloth diapers, pads, paper towels, etc) brought more interest to reusable menstrual cups. Online niche forums fostered the word-of-mouth environment that was perfect for cups. Users with an interest in saving money, reducing chemicals in their products, or living greener lives were the breeding ground of this new revolution.
With just a handful of brands available, not all needs were being met. Many new users wanted to design a new cup based on what was lacking for them. In 2005 Lunette created a new design and developed a flat stem. MeLuna was the first brand to manufacture in TPE in 2009. Intimina launched its first cup design, the Lily Cup, in 2012. After that, new brands launched every few months. Currently, the Period Nirvana Menstrual Cup Comparison Chart has over 50 proprietary menstrual cup brands. If you include the brands that sell “white label” menstrual cups this number would be in the hundreds.
The Next Thing, Reusable Menstrual Discs 2020 – Present
The Instead SoftCup had a rocky start as a company almost from the first day they launched. Initially called UltraFem, then Instead, there were financial and executive issues within the first year despite a strong beginning. Still, the Instead SoftCup earned a strong and cult-like following. In a 2003 NY Times article, it was stated that Instead (SoftCup) sold 15 million units a year, enough for 150,000 users. They introduced a reusable SoftCup version in 2012 that could be washed and re-used for one cycle as opposed to one disposable SoftCup per change. It was discontinued. Intimina was the first brand to design a truly reusable menstrual disc, the Ziggy, made from medical-grade silicone in 2018. Now there are currently 10 brands with discs available to purchase worldwide and many more in development. As with menstrual cups, menstrual discs are experiencing more use and with that more innovation in design and features.
Improving Lives Through Innovation
Without the Tassette, we wouldn’t have had The Keeper. Without The Keeper, we wouldn’t have DivaCup and MoonCup. Without DivaCup and MoonCup, we wouldn’t have the dozens of other menstrual cup brands available today. Menstrual cup history is recent but changes have been fast-paced and the modern menstrual cup industry appears to have been highly competitive.
All modern menstrual cups stem from the earliest menstrual cup designs from the 1930’s, especially the Chalmers/Tassette Cup. The foundation was there from the beginning – a bullet shape, a stem, and even suction holes. Innovation in materials, manufacturing, and design modifications that grant users access to a cup meeting their needs have only enhanced the lives of menstruators around the world. Bodies are all unique and without cup users taking their love of the product and making changes to suit more bodies, we wouldn’t see the access we now have. I like to say “there are no bad menstrual cups, just wrong cups for your body.” This holds true for 95% of the unique cup designs out there. One way to find which is the best menstrual cup or disc for you is by taking the Period Nirvana Quiz.
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