Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and unofficially, the rebirth of San Francisco after the disastrous fire of 1906. It was held in San Francisco, California from February 20 to December 4, 1915. Total attendance was 18,876,438, with 13,127,103 paid and 1,057,146 returned checks (!). Tickets were 50 cents per day for adults, season books cost $11 each (later $10). 25 states, 35 nations and 5 colonies/protectorates (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) participated. The Expo covered 625 acres in an area of reclaimed land in the Presidio and Marina District, and unlike many World Expos, actually turned a profit.
The Exposition included an incubator pavilion. According to contemporary accounts, this exhibit was organized by Martin Couney and was in the amusement section of the fair (the “Joy Zone”) rather than the science section. The incubators were manufactured by Kny-Scheerer, a surgical supply company with an office in Jamaica, New York, licensed by Dr. Alexandre Lion in France. The incubators were exhibited on the first floor, while a model kitchen and accommodations for the staff were located on the 2nd floor. As part of his marketing efforts, Dr. Couney imported five storks from Europe, which roamed about in front of the pavilion in a small fenced area.
“In 1915, Martin Couney organized an impressive exhibit at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Here ‘the tiny tots that had tried to begin life too soon and had to be kept in warm glass chambers awhile so they could get a better start, excited the sympathy of thousands.’ A constant stream of visitors of every age and condition visited the show. (The concession took in over $72,000 during the ten-month run of the exhibition.) –– Incubator-Baby Side-Shows, by William A. Silverman.
“The guidebook of the fair noted: “The appeal of the helplessness of the unconscious mites of humanity rescued and thriving in spite of adverse fate reaches alike the specialist and the careless sightseer who may learn here the particulars of nourishment, nurture and care given these incubator babies. The concession may be described as educational and, in these days of awakening to social service and duty to humanity some study of the methods pursued in working out late discoveries and theories, is well worth while.” — Incubator-Baby Side-Shows, by William A. Silverman
“The Infant Incubators Exhibit on the Zone. Created to educate the general public, this exhibit demonstrated that with proper treatment babies with weak constitutions could be strong and healthy. To lend color to the enterprise, five storks were brought from Budapest to live in the hospital gardens.” — San Francisco Invites The World, by Donna Ewald and Peter Cluter, p. 122.
The San Francisco Public Library has photos of the Baby Incubator Building under construction and in its finished state.
Below: Article in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1915.
Below: Article in the San Francisco Examiner, February 20, 1915.
Below: San Francisco Chronicle clipping from March 28, 1915.
Below: San Francisco Chronicle clipping from November 20, 1915.
Below: A map of the exposition. The Palace of Fine Arts still stands today (although it has been restored and renovated several times in the interim), but most of the other buildings were destroyed or moved after the exposition ended. The “Zone” (amusement park) is on the right end of the map.
Below: A more detailed map of the Fun Zone, showing the location of the Incubator Baby exhibit.
- The Panama-Pacific Exposition, National Park Service
- History of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, on the Centennial Web Site
- Pan-Pacific Exposition Photo Gallery at OPenSFHistory
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition on the Wikipeia
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition on the USA World’s Fairs web site
- Expo 1915 on the Bureau International des Expositions web site
- YouTube video of the Exposition. Incubators and caregivers are seen at approximately 14:15-14:30.
Martin Arthur Couney
- Short biography of Martin Couney
- Martin Couney, Wikipedia
- Martin Couney’s Obituary, from The New York Times, March 2, 1950.
Martin Couney Exhibits in World’s Fairs and National Expositions
- Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl’s Court, 1897
- Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, 1898
- Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, 1901
- Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland, 1905
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition San Francisco, 1915
- Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933-34
- New York World’s Fair, New York, 1939-1940
Martin Couney Sideshows in Amusement Parks
- Coney Island – Luna Park and Dreamland – New York
- Luna Park, Pittsburgh
- Wonderland – Minneapolis and St. Paul
- Wonderland – Revere Beach
- Boardwalk – Atlantic City
- White City Amusement Park – Chicago
- White City Amusement Park, Indianapolis, Indiana
- White City Amusement Park, Cleveland, Ohio
- The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, by Dawn Raffel, Blue Rider Press, ISBN 0399175741
- Miracle at Coney Island, by Claire Prentice (Kindle or audiobook)
General articles about Martin Couney and his exhibits are linked below. Additional links may be found in specific posts about his participation in expositions or sideshows.
Keep in mind that many of these were written before the full facts about Martin Couney’s background became known, or have not incorporated that new information, so they include information from his self-invented background legend.
- Incubator Baby Sideshows, by William Silverman, from Pediatrics.
- Postscript to Incubator-Baby Sideshows, by William. Silverman, from Pediatrics
- Martin Couney’s Story Revisited, by William Silverman, from Pediatrics
- Martin Couney’s Obituary, from The New York Times, March 2, 1950.
- A Patron of the Premies, by A. J. Liebling, from The New Yorker
- The Coney Island Baby Laboratory, by Gary R. Brown, from American Heritage Invention and Technology Magazine
- American Characters: Martin Couney, by Richard Snow, from American Heritage Magazine
- The Man Who Ran a Carnival Attraction… by Claire Prentice, from Smithsonian Magazine
- Life under Glass, audio documentary by Claire Prentice, from the BBC
- Martin Couney and Incubator Exhibits from 1896 to 1943, from the Embryo Project
- The Incubator Baby and Niagara Falls, by Arthur Brisbane, from The Cosmopolitan
- Babies on Display, from NPR
- Beginner’s Luck, from Family Circle Magazine 1993
- Coney Island’s Incubator Babies, by Rebecca Rego Barry, from JSTOR Daily
- The Infantorium, by Katie Shornton, from 99% Invisible
- How One Man Saved a Generation of Premature Babies, from BBC News
- Baby Incubators: From Boardwalk Sideshow to Medical Marvel, by Erin Blackmore, from History.Com
- Babies in Sideshows, by Julie Andreson, from Engines of our Ingenuity
- Dr. Martin Couney, from Coney Island History Project
- “The Use of Incubators for Infants,” The Lancet, May 29, 1897.
- “The Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl’s Court,” The Lancet, July 17, 1897.
- Incubator Baby Shows: A Medical and Social Frontier, by Hannah Lieberman, from The History Teacher 35.1, November, 2001.
- The Child Hatchery, from City Pages.