Necessarily, a Good Idea

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, is a proverb that, in one form or another, has been around as long ago as Plato. The first English record of its present form and use goes back to 19th century Scotland. No matter where it came from, it is one of my favorite proverbs, probably because I saw it in action from the time I was a small girl.


On a shoestring, my parents took up farming in the middle of WWII. Even if they could have afforded to buy the latest farming equipment, the on-going war limited the production of any objects made of iron or steel that were not directly related to winning the war. My father’s trade was that of a machinist. He worked at a Navy Yard making unique parts for large war ships. On the farm, however, he used those talents to take old, discarded objects which he took apart to make machines that he needed on the farm. Two devices that I remember were a tractor wheel-pull and an electrified corn grinder.


In India less than 20 years ago, Arunachalam Muruganatham found that his wife and many other middle class women, used old rags for their menstrual cycle. He discovered that more efficient and more sanitary objects existed but that they were too expensive for even middle class Indian woman to purchase.


After taking apart a store-bought sanitary napkin, Muruganatham decided to make one that would be just as effective, but one that would cost much less. Through trial and error he came up with a product and with machines that would make them at an affordable cost. Rather than “sell his idea” to a big company (which would only make the product more expensive) he went to small villages, got the permission of fathers and husbands, then set up “village factories” run by women, that made sanitary napkins for the village.


Today, he has these little factories run by women for women throughout rural India. The idea has spread to other countries. Muruganatham does not mind that other business- persons have “stolen” his idea and developed machines of their own. He and his family live in a modest apartment and have the necessities of life. He continues to work as a welder. Who knows what his next big idea will be? There must be something out there that is a necessity!

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