Dr. Alexandre Lion
A Short Biography of Alexandre Lion
by Drs. Thijs Gras, Amsterdam
Alexandre Léon Lion was a French inventor. He was born on the 11th of April 1861 in the village of Solliès-Pont (départment Var), son of the farmer Louis Alfred Anselme Lion (1833-1912) and Marie Claire Lion-Gence (1831-1907). It is not known where he received his education.
In 1889 Lion invented an egg incubator for 5000 eggs, including a sophisticated system to keep a stable temperature inside. He put it on display in a pavilion in Marseille and for a small entrance fee people could see chicks hatching.
In 1890 Lion developed a smaller version of this incubator, especially for infants. In May 1890 he received his first prematurely born baby, thus expanding the exhibit with a living human child. The show was a success and in 1891 he expanded his business to Nice, where he founded a charity organization called “Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d’Enfants.”
Until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Lion was very active in propagating his incubator. He founded institutes in other cities in France (his most famous was the institute located on the Boulevard Poissonnière 26 in Paris) and abroad (for example, in Barcelona). Furthermore, he installed incubator pavilions on numerous national and international exhibitions in France and elsewhere in Europe.
These shows were set up according to a (by Lion) proven format. Via entrance fees, the visiting public paid for the costs made to care for the children. The more people came, the more income and the more went to the exploiter. Thus, Lion inspired others to do the same. Following his example, numerous entrepreneurs set up incubator institutes and pavilions on exhibitions. Martin Couney (1869-1950) is one of the most renowned. He set up incubator pavilions on exhibitions and attraction parks in the USA and was active in this business till 1943.
During WW I, Lion fades away in the mist of history, concentrating on other inventions like a water philtre (1928). He was married to Armandine Barrier and, as far as known, the couple had no children.
Alexandre Lion died, 73 years old, on the 22nd of August 1934 in a hospital in Marseille. In his death certificate he is referred to as “a wandering salesman” (“marchand ambulant”).
(For more information about Alexandre Lion, see: “Alexandre Lion: The Forgotten Inventor of Incubator Shows,” by Drs. Thijs Gras, MA, RN. Pediatrics 150(3):e2021054576 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2021-054576)
Above: Five of the Lion Incubators in use, circa 1896, in Lion’s institute for the care of premature babies in Paris, France. Dr. Lion is standing by the end incubator. Image used by permission of Wellcome Library, London.
- General Information
- Press Coverage
- 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 Maternité Lion, Paris, La Patrie, 1897
- Paris Letter: An Improved System of Incubators, by O. Jennings, Pediatrics 1:427-428, 1896
- 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
- Immature Infants in France, from The Lancet, January 16, 1897, page 196.
- Alexandre Lion’s Incubator Charities in Europe (1894–1898) (The Embryo Project)
- Newspaper Articles about Lion’s Storefronts and Expositions
- Maternité Lion Souvenir Booklets
- 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)
- Worlds Fairs and Expositions
- Maternité Lion at the Lyon Exposition Universelle et Coloniale, 1894
- Maternité Lion at the Bordeaux Exposition of 1895.
- “La Maternité Lion,” by Louis Énault, Journal of the Bordeaux Exposition, 1895
- Maternité Lion at the Amsterdam World Exposition, 1895
- Maternité Lion at the Berliner Gewerbeausstellung, 1896
- Maternité Lion at the Exposition National Suisse, Geneva, Switzerland, 1896
- Maternité Lion at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, 1897
- Maternité Lion at the Brussels International Exposition, 1897
- Maternité Lion at the Turin L’Esposizione Generale Italiana, 1898
- Maternite Lion at the Ghent Provincial Exposition of 1899
- Maternité Lion at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900
- Woman’s Exhibition in Earls Court, London, 1900
- Maternité Lion at the Lille Exposition of 1902
- Maternité Lion at the Marseille Colonial Exposition of 1906
- Maternite Lion at the Bordeaux International Maritime Exposition of 1907
- Maternité Lion at the Marseille Exposition Internationale d’Électricité, 1908
- Maternité Lion at the Exposition Internationale de l’Est de la France, Nancy, France, 1909
- Maternité Lion at the Brussels Exposition Universelle et Internationale, 1910
- Maternite Lion at the Exposition du Centre de la France, Clermont-Ferrand, 1910
- Maternité Liion at the Rome International Exposition of 1911
- Maternité Lion at the Turin International Exposition of 1911
- Maternité Lion at the Ghent International Exposition of 1913