Since women have been birthing their little babies for thousands of years, a number of practices and inventions have come along over time that have greatly improved the safety and well-being of the tiniest members of the human race. But a quick look into the not-so-distant past reveals that today’s babies are leading quite different childhoods than the babies of yesteryear.
While some past inventions were phased out as new and better improvements came along, others were quick baby fads that fizzled. Still, more baby gear was downright dangerous and even led to illness, injury or fatal outcomes. In some cases, science led the way in the development.
But more often, manufacturers sold fads and fashions to parents eager to either add convenience to the experience of raising children or hoping to add to the social status of the family.
Fortunately, the past century or so produced a wealth of photographs and documentation of the good, the bad, and the truly weird baby products. Some products are still in use, while others have been rendered obsolete through improved technology. Some practices weren’t changed until they were proved too dangerous. It’s pretty incredible that so many babies did survive these vintage baby products. Here are 20 pictures of vintage baby products from the past.
20 The Automatic Baby Feeder Was An Automatic Baby Mess
It’s really hard to imagine that this contraption could not have resulted in an incredibly messy baby. It probably was more work to set up and then clean up afterward than it was worth.
The comparison to one of those hamster feeders is hard to resist. The 1959 patent indicates that the contraption is basically spring-loaded to adjust as the milk flows from the bottle.
That is, assuming the baby doesn’t move at all in any way while feeding—and assuming the bottle nipple isn’t allowing the milk to flow too freely. That might either choke the baby or cause him or her to turn their head and spill the milk everywhere.
19 Diaper Pins Have Been Completely Redone
According to The Washington Post, more than 95% of parents use disposable diapers, but once upon a time, all babies wore cloth diapers held in place by pins. Even parents who eschew disposables today for the more environmentally-friendly cloth diaper generally use a cloth diaper cover or Snappis; most don’t utilize the iconic diaper pin.
The days of mom sticking herself on the incredibly sharp pin, or worrying about sticking baby if the pin should open, are gone for the most part. Still, retailers like Green Mountain Diapers sell diaper pins for parents who truly want to experience traditional diapering and they even offer an instructional video.
Fortunately, they’re manufactured to be far safer these days.
18 Born To Save With Baby Savings Bank Books
Zell Products produced Baby Savings Bank Books in the 1930s. These were little metal and leather-bound banks with keys. Essentially a piggy bank gifted to the parent or baby, this lock-and-key metal box was a way to start baby off right in life.
It’s never too early to place baby’s feet on the path to fiscal responsibility.
These Zell Baby Savings Bank Books were often imprinted with different company names and logos. The lock and key banks were common throughout the 1920s and ‘30s. Today, they are still popular on vintage selling sites, according to Zeppi.io, and they often included finance-themed slogans imprinted on the front. Tasteful!
17 High On Life With Unregulated Remedies
Sometimes, manufacturers can get a little over-eager and produce products that are a bit ahead of scientific research. Back in the day, parents could visit drugstores and purchase just about any remedy they desired that contained substances that are definitely illegal for all ages today.
In fact, most certainly would have been very bad for babies and children then. One ad by Lloyd Manufacturing—dated 1885—advertised that their toothache drops provided an “instantaneous cure.”
They were probably not lying about the speedy recovery babies would make! Since the FDA wasn’t even created until 1906, ‘quack doctors’ and manufacturers could claim just about anything, no matter how unsafe the ingredients might be, and this product contained a substance we now know to be quite illicit and fatal. Similar products were all the rage back then. Eek!
16 Baby’s On Fire With The Quinometer
Lots of moms worry about every aspect of parenting and feel that they just can’t be too safe. A common baby shower gift for decades was the quinometer. Often manufactured with a holder, according to packaging, it was used to make sure that nothing was too hot or cold for baby.
Removed from the holder, the quinometer could be used to take the temperature of the bathwater, the formula, or even used to take baby’s temperature. These glass and mercury products are not a staple in the nursery anymore and have been replaced in recent years by safer and more accurate electronic thermometers.
Good thinking… mercury being neurotoxic and all.
15 Sterling Silver Teethers Were Only For The Wealthy
Babies in the Victorian Era needed soothing just the same as our babies do today, but available materials for rattles were different.
Wooden rattles were very common but wealthier families needed a more ostentatious sign of familial wealth.
It was sterling baby rattles that showed everyone they could afford to let baby slobber and teethe on elaborately tooled silver, splinter-free. The field of plastics was itself in its infancy at the turn of the century. The first fully synthetic plastic was invented in 1907—according to the Science History Institute.
So, easy-on-the-gums plastic was not an option at the time. But metal? Ehh…
14 Rubber-Bottomed Baby Pants Didn’t Last Long
Rubber or plastic diaper covers were the next evolution in cloth diapering as generation after generation of parents got very tired of getting soaked by a well-hydrated baby. Large quantities of baby laundry meant round-the-clock laundering for mother. Rubber pants were seen as a path to dry sheets.
But the rubber pants chafed baby’s skin terribly and created painful rashes. In fact—according to The Smithsonian—change came because of one mom who was faced with the choice of either a rashy, fussy baby or wet bedding and mountains of cloth diapers. She decided she didn’t like either choice. That was when disposable diapers were invented.
13 A Whole New Meaning To Snug As A Bug With Crib Cover Clips
Babies just don’t have much sense. Moms put them down to nap or sleep for the night and those silly creatures would just insist on rolling or moving around in bed. So, one surefire way to make sure the blanket didn’t move around was to use clips or holders invented to clasp the blanket on either side.
A cord or ribbon was attached to each clip and tightened to keep the blanket nice and snug. This sounds totally unsafe to us now, but these were once a standard nursery item and many came in cute, molded plastic animal shapes.
12 Teetering On The Brink With The Teeter-Tot
These little wooden rockers were a pretty common way to entertain wiggly babies back in the day. The Delphos Bending Company manufactured the TeeterTot from 1945 to 1979.
They produced a variety of models that all centered on a basic design combining curved wood skis or round wheels and a wooden chair. Many models included steel-coiled springs for extra bounce, and extra finger smashing most likely.
The Delphos Bending Company finally went out of business in the early 1990s but a lot of baby boomers fondly remember using these toddler soothers and there is a lively collector’s market for vintage TeeterTots.
11 Spring-Loaded Baby Finger Traps
Rocking soothes babies into dreamland but it can be so difficult to rock baby and then try to transfer her to her crib for safer sleep. Many vintage cribs, like modern cribs, are fitted for castor wheels.
The Rock-A-Crib springs manufactured by N.K.R. Manufacturing were made to screw on in place of the castors to allow parents to rock and gently bounce baby in the crib. The company has allowed the trademark to expire and the idea never really swept the country.
Certainly, there must have been safety concerns with the stability of the crib and the potential for smashing little fingers in the coils.
10 Hop In The Convertible High Chair Stroller
Convenience is not a new objective in the parenting game. Even Victorian-era parents were always looking for multi-tasking tools. Someone had the bright idea of creating mobile and foldable high chairs that could also double as a stroller.
A lot of parents—especially those who travel—appreciate lugging around less baby gear. According to an antique assessor for Tribune Media, this late 19th to early 20th-century contraptions would certainly not be considered safe for the baby today with all the folding parts, metal wheels, and the weight of solid wood and metal.
Parents probably shouldn’t consider these antiques as usable but can continue to preserve them as family heirlooms.
9 Thumb-Suckers Anonymous With The Baby Alice Thumb-Guard
Poor Baby Alice, whoever she was. The Baby Alice Thumb-Guard was a vicious-looking wire and leather strap contraption designed to prevent babies from developing a terrible thumb-sucking habit.
An ad appearing in a 1931 issue of Good Housekeeping explains this baby specialist approved device was safe and comfortable. It looks like it would prevent a baby from being able to bend her thumb at all, and if she bit down on the metal wire, it was probably very uncomfortable.
The Baby Alice Thumb Guard was used throughout the 1920s and ‘30s but has since fallen out of favor with parents who opted not to put metal cages on their baby’s extremities.
8 We’re Glad Suspender Animation Is A Thing Of The Past
Creative minds are always looking for new ways around old problems and apparently, a too restrictive diaper was a big enough problem that baby suspenders seemed like a dynamite solution.
Dirty Diaper Laundry shows an ad for the Acme Shoulder Diaper Suspender sold by Keys, Collier & Tillard with a harness-like contraption clipped to a cloth diaper, holding it in place. In the ad, a happy toddler dances in his fitted suspenders.
In the background, a very sad baby cries while his knotted diaper sags nearly to the ground. Perhaps some mothers were concerned about using diaper pins and looked for a safer alternative.
7 Safety Second With Motor Cribs
Safety car seats are ubiquitous now but that wasn’t always the case. Long before seat belts were standard, several companies developed motor cribs or car bassinets to allow babies to sleep so that mothers didn‘t have to hold them during the car ride.
They were not safety devices in any way; they didn’t apply any restraint to protect the baby if the car were in an accident. One 1925 ad for the Gordon Motor Crib Co shows a folding bassinet that could affix to the back of the mother’s seat, or be installed on the back seat of the car. These car bassinets were used well into the 1970s.
6 I Know Why The Caged Baby Cries—And It’s Not For Fresh Air
When a pre-eminent doctor like Luther Emmett recommends that babies should get outdoor air regularly to stay healthy, how does an urban parent accomplish this while doing the housekeeping chores and mountains of laundry?
According to Good Housekeeping, the baby window cage was a solution that caught on for a time in big cities like London. Suspended high off the ground and attached to an apartment window, a private and scary baby balcony would be installed.
They looked like wire dog kennels hanging in mid-air. These baby window cages were invented in 1922 and were not uncommon for well over a decade after.
5 Seat Belts Are Not For Babies—Hanging Baby Seats Are
After a while, little babies grow and learn to do things like roll, sit up and bounce. Then, a back-seat bassinet might not work well. So, as seen on Good Housekeeping, companies began developing baby seats that could be hung on the car seat back.
Seat belts weren’t even a common feature in cars until the late ‘50s and early ’60, but toddlers have been squirmy since the beginning of man. The slingback car seats provided no safety protection in the case of an accident, but at least they helped keep babies from crawling and rolling around the car while it was in motion.
4 Toddler On Duty With The Ford Tot Guard
Safety advocates began clamoring for safety measures for babies and children in cars that were getting faster and more powerful by the year. In 1973, Ford Motor Company released the Ford Tot Guard: a huge molded plastic seat with a padded shield was held in place by the seat belt.
It wasn’t very popular despite the ever-increasing dangers of getting into a car accident. While the Ford Tot Guard was probably not effective for small babies who often still rode in a parent’s arms, it was the beginning of a positive trend as manufacturers began to design safety seats that could withstand serious impacts from heavy cars at high speeds.
3 Mummy’s Feeding Via The Bottle You Never Clean
For Victorian era mothers, having a self-sufficient baby was apparently a mark of status. A very popular bottle style at that time—according to The Baby Bottle Museum—was a glass bottle that was somewhat flattened and attached to a length of rubber hose with a teat on the end. The hose and teat of the bottle were bacterial playgrounds.
Adding to the tendency of such a set up to grow bacteria, leading self-styled experts often advised that the components didn’t need frequent cleaning. The parts for these infectious bottles were never sterilized, and even though doctors strongly advised against their use, mothers of that era were also being bombarded with safe-sounding marketing which muddied the waters. Hmmm… maybe not much has changed after all.
2 Gas Mask Baby
The threat of invasion and gas attacks in London and other cities and countries in Europe was very real. Developers created gas masks and containers for babies that would totally cover the whole body.
Often, the baby gas masks were brightly colored, according to the BBC. Manufacturers thought that the littlest ones would be less scared if they looked playful and bright. A parent could pump fresh air into the full-body baby gas mask with a manual air pump.
These masks were widely issued as the threat of invasion was perceived to be very intense. Constant bombings—especially at Swansea and London—caused many to lose their lives. Hopefully, this will never be a standard-issue baby item ever again.
1 Anti-Baby Theft Device
Seemingly out of a science fiction novel comes the Black Light Baby Guard of the 1930s. A futuristic design sent rays of black light across a sensor. When the weight of the baby was lifted off the crib, a bell rang. The advertisement doesn’t say if the bell rings only once or continues to ring until pressure was put down.
The 1934 Lindbergh baby kidnapping brought on a temporary wave of fear for parents who worried that if a famous baby could be taken without a trace, then there was nothing stopping their own babies from being stolen in the night. Once the Lindbergh fervor died down, then so did the desire for alarm-rigged baby cribs.
References: Automatic Baby Feeder Patent, The Washington Post, Green Mountain Diaper, Zepp.io, The Telegraph, FDA, Ebay, Bexfield Antiques, Science History Institute, The Smithsonian Institute, Delphos Bending Company, All About Cloth Diapers, TradeMarkia, Tuscon.com, American Libraries Magazine, Dirty Diaper Laundry, Period Paper, Good Housekeeping, The Henry Ford Foundation, BBC, Baby Bottle Museum, Popular Science Archives, Pinterest, PopSci