Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants

"Alexandre Lion's incubator was patented in 1889. He was a physician in Nice, France, whose father was an inventor. (3)(11) Similar to the cost-driven motivation that permeates today's medical practices, the overriding attraction of this incubator was the reduced attention needed to operate it. With fewer trained personnel needed, cost was reduced. The Lion incubator was a high point in technology at the end of the 19th century. An automatically regulated heating system was housed in an attractive cabinet. The incubator pulled outside air into its system, adding ventilation to the traditional function of warming. A commentary in Lancet (1897) pointed out that "the main feature of this new incubator is the fact that it requires no constant and skilled care. It works automatically; both ventilation and heat are maintained without any fluctuations whatsoever . . . the only attendance necessary is that needed for feeding and washing the infants." The Lion incubator was expensive, which limited its availability. Charities and municipal government were early sources of support. Because Lion was probably as much an entrepreneur as a physician, he improvised revenue-producing "incubator charities," storefront facilities usually located on busy boulevards throughout France. He charged spectator admission, and he advertised his product widely. He did, however, receive professional endorsement from a study by the physician-general of the City of Nice in which a 72% survival rate among 185 infants was reported."
-- From "An Encapsulated History of Thermoregulation in the Neonate," by Sheldon B. Kornoes, MD, NeoReviews, Volume 5, No. 3, March 2004.

Lion's establishments were known as "Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants," and branches are known to have existed in Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice, Liege, and Brussels. There may have been others. The exposition at 26 B. Poissonniere in Paris is the best documented and an entry ticket is shown below.

The image below shows five of the Lion Incubators in use, circa 1896, in Lion's establishment in Paris, France. Dr. Lion is standing by the end incubator.

In addition to its use in his own establishments, Lion's incubator design was licensed and manufactured by Paul Altmann in Berlin and by Kny-Scheerer Co. in the US. It was widely used in exhibitions and sideshows throughout Europe and the United States, beginning with the Kinder-Brutanstalt ("child hatchery") at the Berlin Exposition of 1896 and the Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl's Court of 1897, followed by the Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska and many others.

I acquired the booklet below from a French antique dealer. It appears to be material that was given (or sold) to visitors to the Paris branch of Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants at 26, Boulevard Poissonière. The publication date is not explicit but should be somewhere between 1896 and 1900 -- the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 is not mentioned, and Lion is known to have exhibited there.

For more information about Dr. Lion and the Paris operation, see James Walter Smith's article hotlinked below.

Dr. Alexandre Lion
The Lion Incubator
Baby Incubators, by James Walter Smith
Paris Exposition Universelle (1900)

Created 2/27/2011 / Last modified 12/16/2020
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