Friday, May 19th, 2006
Historical Baby Gear Images and Other Strangeness
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery provides free access to hundreds of thousands of images in the library’s collections. Thanks to Ursi’s Blog for mentioning the gallery because I just lost several hours browsing images. Here are some baby highlights.
Two notes. Click thumbnails on NYPL pages to see larger versions in pop-up windows. If you really like an image, order a print!
1) Baby gear backlash circa 1859 [image] â€“ Shown at right, this drawing depicts “Mr. Punch’s Patent Nursemaid Bonnet-Screen.” A woman pushes two kids in a jogging stroller-style pram while wearing a gigantic bonnet which overshadows the whole pram. The caption warns, “Don’t broil your babies!”
I kept rubbing my eyes. The Library classified the image as “cartoon (commentary)” so it must be an editorial cartoon unleashing a scathing critique of the parenting public’s infatuation with baby gear. But wait, did the cartoonist invent the idea of a three-wheel pram in 1859 to further lampoon our foolishness, or did such a contraption really exist? Check out the last photo on this page at the Wisconsin Historical Society web site. It looks like an (albeit pull instead of push) three-wheel baby carriage.
The Wisconsin Historical Society states:
“The first noted appearance of a pushable carriage (as opposed to a pulled cart) occurred on a spring day in 1848, when a new contraption caused quite a stir along the promenade at New York Cityâ€™s Battery Park. Unable to afford a nursemaid, Charles Burton designed and built a unique three-wheeled vehicle for his wife to use with their newborn son.”
Various web pages make brief references to the non-parenting public’s distaste for baby carriages because inexperienced operators kept bumping into people. Burton moved to England an opened a baby carriage factory. America would wait another decade before someone attempted domestic production.
2) Don’t screw men in blue [image] â€“ This crafty piece of moral propaganda from 1915 shows a prim lady passing a disinterested police officer as she pushes her pram. The caption reads, “Sweethearts once, strangers now.”
3) Bassinet hung from ceiling [image] â€“ Hey, it’s an Amby Baby Motion Bed, circa 1911, hanging from the ceiling of this home in Kiev, Ukraine. Look at the father at far right in the drawing and tell me he’s not standing next to a crib suspended by ropes.
5) Saturday Afternoon in Central Park [image] â€“ This beautiful piece of artwork by Power O’Malley from 1909 shows New Yorkers enjoying a day outside. A mother tending her baby in a pram is featured in the foreground.
7) New York City Prize Baby Show [image] â€“ This page has a few drawings of women and babies, but what caught my attention is a sign which reads, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rocks the world.” That’s a quote from William Ross Wallace’s 1874 ballad poem, “The Hand That Rocks the World.”
8) Egyptian mother goddess [image] â€“ This is artist Leon Jean Joseph’s interpretation of Tawaret, the Egyptian goddess of pregnancy and childbirth. He shows her with a human upper body and pregnant hippopotamus bottom, but Tawaret was most often depicted by Egyptian artists as a full hippo (sometimes with lion and crocodile parts). The underlying message is: don’t mess with momma.
9) Hush-a-Bye Baby [image] â€“ This color trading card has a drawing from the late 1880s which demonstrates the absurdity of the rock-a-bye baby nursery rhyme. Yes, there is a baby in a bassinet sitting in the top of a tree.
10) Sorosis shoe advertisement [image] â€“ You’ve got to love unregulated health claims. It seems every adult foot ailment from flat feet to “bunchy feet” can be traced back to improper shoes worn in childhood.
11) Baby jumper and rocking chair [image] â€“ This swing rocker is one of several baby products on the displayed page from 1901. Oh, how a mother had to toil away, manually pushing her baby in a rocker without battery assistance.
12) Infants’ Wear 1899 and earlier (index page)
13) Infants’ Wear 1900s (index page)