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").
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.