Nursery Supplies Throughout History
Are you expecting a new baby? Are you already a parent or grandparent? Have you ever browsed through your local baby aisle and gazed in wonder at the assortment of gadgets and trinkets? If so, you were probably deciding what you needed to buy, whether or not you could afford something, or whether or not it should go on a gift list or registry.
Most parents and parents-to-be don't have the time to inspect each item and think "how awfully clever! I wonder who invented this!" although at times you probably have thought to yourself "Thank God someone invented that!" when a particular item turned out to be a life-saver.
When did all of those cool baby items come into existence? Surprisingly, many were invented not long after the first babies were made. Even more surprisingly, some were not invented, or at least perfected, until the 20th century!
Origin of Baby Bottles
Next to diapering supplies, baby bottles are probably the most frequently purchased baby item. Even breastfeeding moms usually have a bottle or two in the house.
We can buy them for less than a dollar, and we take it for granted that they are available in every corner store and gas station if we need them.
It wasn't always that easy. In fact, the history of baby bottles is both amazing and scary. The oldest baby bottles, or feeding vessels, looked a lot like Aladdin's lamp, or a modern teapot. The oldest known feeding vessel dates to about 2000 B.C. These ancient bottles were made of various types of pottery.
Even though glass bottles were introduced in 300 B.C, when Egyptians perfected the art of glass-blowing, they never achieved popularity, and were only reintroduced in the 1800's! Yet another example of how inventions that assisted women were placed on the back-burner.
During the middle ages, the use of carved wooden vessels, leather bottles, pewter flasks, and cow's horns were used. Lucky babies had bottles with real goat or cow udders. Others had to be satisfied with hard spouts.
In the 1700's, the design of baby feeders reverted back to the old pottery style feeders. These "pap boats" came in a variety of designs, and would have been quite pretty, if they hadn't been so unsafe.
Infants were fed a mixture of ''pap'', which consisted of scraps of various breads, milk, sugar, fat, or raw meat. Also, called sucking pots, the pap boats are thought to have contributed to the high infant mortality rate, due both to the indigestible formula and the risk of choking.
In the 1770's, a doctor named Hugh Smith did at least recommend that mothers cover the spout with a piece of stuff cloth. This would have allowed the babies to suck more naturally, and would have strained out larger particles of food. It didn't remedy the fact that the feeding vessels were highly unsanitary.
In the 1800's a hands-free feeding system was invented. It looked like a hookah, with the nipple attached to a long hose. Even at the time, physicians warned people about using these bottles.
There was no adequate way to clean or sterilize the bottle or the tubing, and as a result it earned the nickname "the murderer". Even with that ominous reputation, the bottle remained popular until the 1920s, even with newer, better bottles available.
In the 1880's, "the banana" bottle was invented. It was the first feeder designed especially for hygienic purposes, rather than just functionality. It too was shaped rather like a gravy boat, and the nipple had a tight rubber base that was stretched over the bottle. The design remained popular, with only a few modifications, for 50 years.
At the same time the banana bottle was gaining popularity, upright glass bottles were also available. They had the very narrow necks over which the nipples were stretched. This design, like the feeding vessels, was difficult to clean thoroughly.
Wide-neck bottles, similar to today's bottles, were available in the late 1800's, but were not popular until well after the turn of the century. By this time devices to sterilize bottles were being introduced, and more people understood the importance of hygiene for maintaining a baby's health.
Even today, baby bottles are constantly being redesigned. Today's mom has the option of plastic or glass bottles in a variety of shapes and sizes. Specially designed feeding systems assist with orthodontics and digestive upsets. For travel, disposable bottles or bottles with disposable liners can ensure that babies always have a source of sustenance...without harmful bacteria!
History of Diapers
Lets face it, babies need to be kept clean and dry. And that is sometimes a challenge. Your average infant is a pretty leaky vessel, and rumor is that babies have always been slightly moist.
Even cave babies. So naturally, along the path of evolution and industrialization, someone had to keep looking for better ways to contain all that extra mess.
As far back as the Stone Age, mothers found ways to diaper their babies. Moss, leaves, wool and other absorbent materials were bound to the body by cloth, fur or leather bands. Egyptian artwork depicts infants swaddled in strips of padded linen, which suggests that any culture with access to fabric used cloth for diapering.
The predecessor to the modern cloth diaper (either flat or prefold) has been dated back to the 16th century. At that time, diapering was a term that related to the actual style and weave of the fabric.
The quilted effect made the material more absorbent, and therefore more desirable for assisting with baby's elimination needs. Therefore, the term diapering became associated more with "nappies" than fabric.
By the 1800's, women could purchase diapers made much like today's flat or prefold diapers, often with an extra absorbent pad. Before the invention of the diaper pin 1849 (patent) diapers might be held in place either by tying or covering with "bloomers".
In the 1930s rubber pants were available to place over the diaper to help control leaks. In the 1940s a woman named Marion Donovan sewed a plastic diaper cover from her shower curtain. This design is very similar to the new style of cloth diaper covers.
At the same time, the first disposable diapers were appearing on the market, but were much too expensive for the everyday person to afford. Plus, they had multiple parts, much like a cloth diapering system, which didn't make them much quicker to use. For these reason, Donovan's design remained a popular solution.
More mothers were interested in having careers, and diaper care was an involved process. Diapers had to be boiled for sterilization, and this must have taken most of the mother's time. Time at least that wasn't spent changing the diapers.
More companies tried to introduce different disposable diapers, but it wasn't until the introduction of Pamper's brand in 1961 that the industry boomed. By the 80's disposable diapers were super-absorbent and cloth diapers were almost non-existent. However, in recent years cloth diapers have been revived.
Today's cloth diapers are designed to mimic the style of disposable diapers, with "all-in-one diapers" being just as quick and easy to change. The invention of waterproof cloth, such as PUL, makes the diapers just as leak-proof as disposables. Many crafty people can easily make their own diapers, too.
Who DID Invent the Pacifier?
Love them or hate them, pacifiers, ( also known as dummies, soothers, binkies, and paci's) are a popular baby item. They make a great addition to gift baskets, so they are always a reasonable purchase for baby showers.
Mothers have always handed certain objects to their babies to suck or chew. Before pacifiers were marketed, there was little distinction between an a pacifying object and a teething object.
Use of items such as coral, bone, and corncob were recorded as far back as the 1600's. In an age of superstition, it was the magical attributes of the materials that made them popular, rather than how well they worked.
Sugar-teats were also used, and remained in use well into the 1900s. These were made by tying sugar, fat, or moistened pastries into a rag, creating a knot or ball that baby could mouth. Whereas the hard objects were probably used more for teething aids, these soft treats were most likely intended to soothe and preoccupy the baby.
The pacifier design we are familiar with today first made an appearance in 1900. The invention of rubber allowed for a shaped nipple design. The use of the pacifier was debated from the beginning, and blamed for a host of problems, from psychological illness to crooked teeth. The fact that these pacifiers contained high doses of lead was much more alarming than whether or not they led to dental problems!
Infant Transportation--Car Seats, Strollers, and Slings
The oldest method of baby transportation was a carrier that was worn by the mother. Today we know them as slings, carriers, or back packs. They are also known by brand and style, such as ring-slings, mei tai's, Baby Bjorn, etc.
Infant carriers date back to ancient history. The Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Native Americans are just a few of the cultures that utilized some form of baby carrier.
After the invention of the wheeled strollers and prams, slings and carriers lost popularity. They began to make a comeback in the 1960s, and today, many parents own at least one form of sling/carrier.
Wheeled transportation was first mentioned in the 1700's. These early "buggies" were designed to be hitched to a small pony or other cart animal.
In the 1830's, baby carriages that were pushed by humans had become more common. They were heavy and awkward, but very beautiful.
The design for baby carriages has undergone some major changes, with improvements to sturdiness, safety features, and maneuverability. It wasn't until 1965 though that the first modern style stroller was invented. After that, prams fell out of favor. Strollers were smaller, lighter, and easier to use.
Car seats, now considered so important that a newborn cannot leave the hospital without one, were not introduced until the 1930s. These early seats were meant to serve as booster seats.
Although adult passengers were beginning to use safety devices, children were pretty much left un-protected. The first seat designed specifically for the safety of a child was not invented until 1962. Car seats are being constantly re-designed to make them more safe, more durable, and more comfortable.
Another form of baby transportation is the baby walker. It allows a baby to toddle around the room while supported in a sling seat. Today the walker has a wide base and an activity tray that serve to create a barrier between baby and any potential mischief.
A painting dating from the 15th century shows the Infant Jesus in a baby walker, watching his mother at her work. The walker does not have a seat, but looks more like an open frame that served merely as support for a toddling child.
However, we know that concept of walkers is at least as old as the 1400's. More commonly throughout history, children had loops, ribbons, or long strings sewn to their clothes. These allowed their parent's to lead them, as well as tie them to immobile objects to keep them out of harm's way.
As barbaric as that might sound today, at least it showed that the parent's had the child's welfare in mind. In a time fraught with more natural dangers than today's society, one can imagine that many a child was saved from being drowned or trampled by these ribbons.
Walker's were still in use however. The more modern walker was first patented in 1874 and was listed as "an improvement" on older models. Today, parents can choose a stationary device that is similar to a walker in design or a traditional walker with improved safety features.
Miscellaneous Baby Inventions
What about those odds and ends that we collect for the nursery? They had to be invented too. From simple grooming tools to high tech gadgets, here are the invention dates for several interesting items:
- Baby monitors--supposedly invented in the 1930s
- Fingernail clippers--First patented in 1875
- Tear-free shampoo--invented in 1955
Some common baby toys, such as the rattle, date back to pre-history too. Excavations have revealed clay, wood, and leather figures filled with beads or pebbles.
Evolution Of Baby Gear
Baby accessories have come along way over the centuries. It is interesting to note that items such as toys and clothing evolved at a much faster pace than necessities such as bottles and diapers.
Even today we often purchase an item for baby care, only to discover that is difficult to clean, difficult to transport, or unsafe to use. Still, at least modern parents have the option of replacing faulty items from a variety of alternatives.
Thanks to the evolution of baby gear, baby's lives and mother's sanity have been saved. And who knows? 200 years into the future, today's seats, carriers, bottles and monitors may look incredibly crude and prehistoric to our descendants!
J. Biaza from USA on April 19, 2013:
This is such a great article. I never really took time to think about the evolution of baby accessories. I love history and just for the reasons like this article, it makes one think. Thanks!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on April 06, 2013:
@moonlake--I'm glad for the better carseats too. I just wish they could design one that was safe AND easy to install in the car! I'm not sure if pacifiers are really bad, or if they just like to pick on little details. Some people don't want kids to have blankies or lovies either. But I have never met anyone that was psychologically damaged beyond repair just because they had a paci or a blankie. I HAVE seen kids trauamatized by the way parents ripped those items away from them without explanation at a certain age. That's just cold.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)
moonlake from America on April 05, 2013:
Very interesting hub. I remember when they didn't want us to give our babies a pacifier. I'm so glad they now have good car sets for kids. Voted up.