Invent something to help a child sleep, and the world will beat a path to your door. There’s been no shortage of attempts to come up with something workable -and marketable- to give a little relief to tired parents dealing with a fussy infant. These include everything from the classic rocking cradle to a planned “smart crib,” in which the child is monitored by automation. There have been some truly disturbing contraptions that came and went along the way.
The most bizarre crib in the patent category with bedside co-sleepers (“Children’s beds capable of being suspended from, or attached to, window frames or other articles”) is the window crib. The first, but certainly not only, patent for such a crib appeared in 1919, not too long after American pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt insisted in his book The Care and Feeding of Children that “fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood” and that “those who sleep out of doors are stronger children.” So what were city-dwelling parents to do? Why, put baby in a cage suspended out the window, much like an air conditioning unit, of course! Eleanor Roosevelt used one in their townhouse window for their daughter, Anna, until a neighbor threatened to report her for child cruelty. “This was a shock to me,” Roosevelt wrote in her autobiography, “for I thought I was being a most modern mother.” Though they may not have been common in New York, they were quite popular in London. Thankfully, we aren’t “airing” babies out of windows anymore, but you can buy infant tents for naptime at the beach.
Read about some of the stranger inventions that have been patented for baby-rearing at Smithsonian.