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The Bizarre History Of The Baby Cage: A Penthouse for a Baby?

The Bizarre History Of The Baby Cage: A Penthouse for a Baby?

In the 1930s, baby cages were marketed as the 'it' parenting product among apartment dwellers who did not have access to backyards in London, with mothers all over the country dangling their babies out of windows and inside hutch-like contraptions so that their bundles of joy could be “aired” and enjoy the fresh, outdoor air.

So, exactly what was a baby cage? It was a metal structure built into apartment windows that served as a sort of enclosed mini terrace. The cages resembled a chicken coop or a modern air conditioner guard. Instead of holding a fowl or a frigid-air pushing appliance, they provided an area for apartment dwellers to place their babies.

Mrs. Robert C Lafferty invented the "health cage," as it was originally known, to provide babies with fresh air and sunlight while living in crowded cities.

However, their roots can be traced back to Dr. Luther Emett's parenting book from the late 19th century recommended the process of "airing out children" to "renew and purify the blood." In his book, The Care and Feeding of Children, Emmett Holt wrote about the importance of "airing" out babies in 1884. 

Emmett describes in detail how babies must be "aired." He wrote, “Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as important for health and growth as proper food.” “The appetite is improved, the digestion is better, the cheeks become red, and all signs of health are seen.”

This claim gave rise to one of the strangest inventions of the twentieth century: baby cages.

Essentially, the logic was that this was part of a process to toughen up the babies and make them more resistant to common colds. It was thought that exposing infants to cold temperatures, both outside and through cold-water bathing, would provide them with immunity to minor illnesses.

Some parents took it a step further, following a doctor's advice who insisted on the importance of fresh air for babies. Eleanor Roosevelt, a 21 years old young mother who knew absolutely nothing about handling or feeding a baby, purchased a wooden basket with a wire grid after her daughter Anna's birth. She hung it out the window of her New York City apartment and put Anna inside for naps — until a concerned neighbor threatened to report her to the police.

The first commercial patent application for a "portable baby cage" has been submitted by Emma Read of Spokane, Washington, in 1922. 

The baby cage's popularity eventually dwindled after the 1920s. This could have been related to safety concerns. Although there are no known injuries on record due to using this invention, the popularity of baby cages is thought to have declined sometime during the late twentieth century, when perceptions surrounding child safety began to change.

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