Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, 1898
The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was held in Omaha, Nebraska from June 1 to October 31, 1898, on 184 that include today’s Kountze Park. Attendance was 2,613,508 and tickets were 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children. The city of Omaha was only 44 years old at this time, but had already become a major railroad center. The city was anxious for it to be named as an international exhibition, but only China and Mexico had official exhibits and there was representation from private companies in a dozen or so other countries — the Spanish-American War probably contributed to this.
The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition included the first “Incubator Baby Exhibit” in the United States, patterned after similar exhibits at the Berlin Exposition in 1896 and Earl’s Court in 1897. The sideshow on the East Midway was organized by Dr. Martin Couney with his associates Samuel Schenkein, a New York entrepreneur, and Mme. Louise Recht, a nurse who was trained at the Paris Maternité and had joined Couney at the Earl’s Court exposition. Six incubators for the exhibit were imported from Paul Altmann of Berlin. They appear identical to the Lion Incubators and were presumably built under license using Dr. Alexandre Lion’s design and patents. This was only ten years after the very first incubator had been employed for rescue of a premature infant in Paris by Stéphane Tarnier.
A lengthy article with photos appeared in the Omaha Excelsior on August 20, 1898.
The infant incubator exhibit received many other mentions in the local press, some favorable and some not so much.
From the Wakefield Scrapbook volume 3, press clipping dated September 13, 1897.
AN APPLICATION FROM ENGLAND.
Proposition to Establish Baby Incubator at the Exposition.
The Department of Concessions has received a proposition which eclipses anything yet received in the way of novelty and interest. It is forwarded by Dudley Smith, commissioner general for Great Britain. It is an application from an English firm for a concession for a baby incubator.
The firm in question proposes to put in a number of these incubators and have them in full operation during the exposition. Enclosed with the application are a number of clippings from English newspapers containing cuts showing the exhibit made by this firm at the exposition now in progress in London. These cuts show a long row of these machines, each having its tiny inmate, which the foot note says are from five to eight months old. The lusty-looking youngsters are fed from reservoirs seen at the side of the machine, while complicated apparatus serves to keep the temperature and air of the interior at the proper point.
From the Omaha Daily Bee, Friday, August 12, 1898.
From the Omaha Daily Bee, November 2, 1898:
MANY MIDWAY SUITS STARTED
Justice Court Dockets Well Filled with Actions Growing Out of the Different Disputes.
The Midway is now furnishing a great source of revenue for the justice courts of the city, each justice having from twenty to fifty cases for trial.
The latest suit to be instituted against a Midway concessionaire is that of George R. Bird against the people who operated the baby incubator over on the East Midway. The plaintiff was a lecturer and for weeks he explained the scientific principles involved in connection with the incubator and during his leisure hours “barked” for the show. Now he says that Dr. Schenkien and the other people connected with the concern failed to pay him his wages. In addition to suing he has attached the cases and compartments where the infants were kept while on exhibition.
From the Omaha Daily Bee, November 5, 1898.
From the Morning World Herald, September 18, 1898:
Apparently co-marketing is not a new concept. From the Nebraska State Journal, October 30, 1898:
A Map of the exhibition and an overhead view (artist’s conception) can be found below.
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.