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, Brussels, and New York City. There may have been others. The exposition at 26 B. Poissonniere in Paris is the best documented. The storefront and an entry ticket are 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.

Dr. Lion created souvenir postcards for all of his storefront locations and exhibitions, which must have been very popular because they can be found in abundance on eBay and other sites. Most of these were based on a common template, where only a few words of text were changed for each location. The two below were for the Paris branch of Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants.

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

Dr. Alexandre Lion
The Lion Incubator
Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants, New York, 1897
La Maternité "Lion de Nice" pour Enfants Nés Avant Terme ou Débiles, by Dr. Ciaudo, 1895.
Les Couveuses pour Enfants, Gazette Médicale de Paris, 1900
Couveuses d'Enfants, La Patrie, 1897
Baby Incubators, The Strand Magazine, 1896, by James Walter Smith
Human Infant Incubation: A True Fairy-Tale of Modern Science from Leslie's Weekly, 1897
The Saving of Human Life, Maternité Lion in NYC, The Literary Digest, 1898
Alexandre Lion's Incubator Charities in Europe (1894–1898)
Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants, Paris Institute, Booklet Version #1 (appears to be ~1896)
Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants, Paris Institute, Booklet Version #2 (appears to be ~1901)
Pamphlet from Alexander Lion's exhibit at the 1898 exhibition in Torino, Italy. (PDF supplied by Dr. Thijs Gras, Amsterdam)
Couveuses d'Enfants - La Patrie, 1897
Maternité Lion at the Lyon Exposition Universelle - Le Monde Illustré, 1894
Maternité Lion at the Paris Exposition Universelle (1900)
Maternité Lion at the Exposition Internationale de l'Est de la France, Nancy, France, 1909
Maternité Lion at the Lyon Exposition Universelle et Coloniale, 1894
Maternité Lion at the Turin L'Esposizione Generale Italiana, 1898
Maternité Lion at the Liege Exposition Universelle et Internationale, 1905
Maternité Lion at the Brussels Exposition Universelle et Internationale, 1910
Maternité Lion at the Marseille Exposition Internationale d'Électricité, 1908
Maternité Lion at the Esposizione Generale Italiana of 1898, Turin, Italy

Created 2/27/2011 / Last modified 12/4/2022
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