The Lion Incubator

Image from Woman in Girlhood, Wifehood, & Motherhood, by Dr. Myer Solid-Cohen, 1906.

"Dr. 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 image below is a cutaway view of the Lion Incubator, from an exhibit booklet at the 1898 Torino Italian General Exhibition. (PDF of booklet supplied by Drs. Thijs Gras, Amsterdam)

The nameplate below is on a surviving Lion Incubator in the Milk Station Museum in Lisbon, Portugal ( Image supplied by Drs. Thijs Gras, Amsterdam.

The postcard below is the earliest image I have found. It is from the International Colonial Exposition in Lyon in 1894.

The image below shows five of the Lion Incubators in use, circa 1896, in Lion's storefront 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.

The postcard below shows Lion's branch in Brussels at 13, rue de la Madeleine.

The postcard below was a souvenir of the Marseille Colonial Exhibition of 1906. Evidently Lion used the same basic postcard template for many different events.

The postcard below was a souvenir of the Marseille Electrical Exhibition of 1908.

The Lion Incubator 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, beginning with the Kinder-Brutanstalt ("child hatchery") at the Berlin Exposition of 1896 and the Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl's Court of 1897 and in New York in 1897, followed by commercial exhibits as sideshows in the Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska and many other expositions in the USA in the early 1900s.

Dr. Alexandre Lion, a brief biography
Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants, Paris
Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses d'Enfants at the 1898 Italian General Exhibition in Torino
Paris Exposition Universelle (1900)
Lion Incubator Exhibition in New York, 1897
Baby Incubators, by James Walter Smith
Human Infant Incubation from Leslie's Weekly, 1897.

Created 10/29/2006 / Last modified 10/1/2022
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