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Incubators


All modern incubators work on the same basic principles. A fan blows filtered ambient air over a heating element and a water container. Through a control valve additional oxygen can be supplied to the air. The moistened, heated, and enriched air now flows into the cabinet with the baby. One part of the air escapes from the cabinet through vent holes, another part gets back into the air processing.

Weithower basic incubator design

The diagram and design summary above is from Frank Weithoener’s excellent web page at http://www.frankshospitalworkshop.com/equipment/infant_incubators_equipment.html. For more information, click the link.

Early Incubators

Although Denucé is credited with first publication of a warming device for premature and sick infants, Dr. Stéphane Tarnier, a Paris obstetrician, is credited with the formulation of the first incubator as we know them today – a glass-warmed box for with a warming source for environmental control, infection control, and the ability to observe the baby without disturbing it or exposing it to cold air. Reportedly, Tarnier’s source of inspiration was chicken incubators in use at the time. The concept was rapidly adopted and improved by other French obstetricians, notably Dr. Pierre Budin, Dr. Pierre-Victor-Adolphe Auvard, and Dr. Alexandre Lion, and within a few years incubators of various designs were being manufactured and sold in many countries including Germany, France, and the USA.

Denuce

Above: Dr. Jean-Louis-Paul Denucé’s incubator for premature infants, Bordeaux, ca. 1857. Essentially a double-walled tub, separated by a closed space that can be filled with warm water. This is the first known reference to an incubator in the Western medical literature.

Winkel's permanent bath

Above: Franz Winckel’s “Permanent Bath for Newborns,” Dresden, 1882

tarnier exterior

Above: Dr. Stéphane Tarnier’s first incubator came into regular use at the Maternité of Port Royal in Paris in 1881. The lower half was occupied by a large tank of hot water.

Tarnier and Auvard design

Above: Dr. Stéphane Tarnier’s and Dr. A. Auvard’s new and improved incubator design (“nouvelle couveuse”) came into use at the Maternité of Port Royal in Paris around 1884.

Tarnier incubator Maternite

Above: Tarnier incubator in use at the Maternite, Paris. Probably taken from Berthod, P. La couveuse et le gavage a la maternite de Paris, 1887. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

Above: Dr. Carl Siegmund Franz Credé published a description of his “warming tub” in 1884, which appears very similar to Denucé’s incubator. He stated that it had been in regular use since 1866 in the Leipzig maternity hospital and included survival statistics.

Above: Incubator used by G. Eustache of Lille, France. It was constructed by Hearson in London under his direction, derived from their Champion incubator for poultry. He was aware of Tarnier’s incubator and talks about it in his paper, many features are similar.

Above: Hearson’s Thermostatic Nurse, ca. 1884, constructed by Hearson in London under direction of G. Eustache of Lille, France, as advertised and used in England.

Sci Am Incubator

Above: A diagram of an incubator that appeared in the Scientific American Supplement in 1888. No explicit attribution in the article but Tarnier and Budin in Paris are mentioned in the text.

Above: Dr. Alexandre Lion’s incubator, patented in 1889 and used in his own establishments throughout France as well as in the incubator sideshows at many international exhibitions.

Above: An incubator improvised by a Minneapolis doctor ca. 1892 for a premature delivery.

Above: Incubator described by Dr. T. M. Rotch in 1893, Boston.

Above: Nurses caring for newborns at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1895. Primitive incubator visible at the left.

Incubator manufactured by Paul Altmann in Berlin ca. 1897, adapted from the design of Dr. Alexandre Lion.

Incubator manufactured by Truax, Greene and Co. referenced in a paper by Dr John A. Lyons, Chicago, 1897.

Above: Incubator illustrated in “The Artificial Incubator for Infants” by V. Pascaud in 1899, Paris. Seems to be the Lion incubator.

Above: “Couveuse en Glace” found in the 1900 operating room equipment catalog of Flicoteaux, Borne, and Boutet, Paris.

Above: Dr. How’s Electric Incubator, 1903.

Above: Nurse sitting with incubator at the General Lying In Hospital, Lambeth, England, 1908.

Above: Incubator used at the Sloane Hospital for Women, New York City, 1914, as seen in JAMA Volume 63 No. 11.

Rijkskweekschool voor Vroedvrouwen te Rotterdam. Verzorging van baby in warmwatercouveuse. Nederland 1914.

Above: Baby in a warm water incubator, Rotterdam School for Midwives, 1914.

MG.M-12230

Above: Dr. Julius Hess’s incubator, Chicago, Illinois, in use at the Premature Infant Station at Sarah Morris Hospital ca. 1915. Photo from the National Museum of American History.

(GERMANY OUT) France – Ile de France – Paris: Incubators for premature infants – Bonnaire Hospital – undated Vintage property of ullstein bild (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Above: Incubators at the Bonnaire Hospital in Paris ca. 1928.

1930s and 1940s

Above: Hotbed incubator developed at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, 1933. Photo from ACME Newspictures.

Above: Baby in a “rocking” incubator ca. 1936. Babies’ Hospital, Philadelphia. Photo from Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library.

Above: Incubators at the Maternity Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland, ca. 1937. Associated Press photo.

Above: Presentation of an incubator for the nursery of the Northern Liberties Hospital, June 14, 1937. Photo from Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library.

Above: Chapple Incubator, Phildelphia, Pennsylvania, 1938. Novel features included rolled sleeves, water gauge, improved control of temperature and humidity, and lighted interior.

Above: 17-ounce baby in Dayton incubator, 1939. Photo from N.E.A.

Above: Nurse with incubators at the Kensington Hospital for Women, ca. 1940. Photo from Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library.

An isolette in use around 1940. These sturdy but primitive incubators remained in use in many nurseries until the 1960s and 1970s. I remember seeing them when I was a medical student.

NURSING, 1942. A nurse caring for a premature infant in an incubator. Photograph by Fritz Henle, 1942.

Above: Nurse caring for premature infant in an incubator. Photo by Fritz Henle, 1942. From the Granger Academic Educational Picture Archive.

Above: American Legion gift of an infant incubator to the Women’s Southern Homeopathic Hospital, ca. 1942. Photo from Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library.

Above: Infant occupation of a newly developed incubator at Doctor’s Hospital, 1942. Photo from Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library.

Above: The Charlotte Box, built by Oxygenaire Limited of London, used in England 1945-1955. Image from the Wellcome Image Collection.

1950s and 1960s

Above: Incubator at DePaul Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1950.

Above: Mom and nurse look at premature baby in incubator, 1950. International News Photos.

Above: Nurses caring for a premature infant at Philadelphia General Hospital, 1950.

Above: One day old premature baby in a Kansas incubator, 1954. N.E.A. photo.

Above: British-designed “Mechanical Mother” incubator, 1954. United Press photo.

Above: Quads in incubators, Sandston, Virginia, 1958. Photo from UPI.

“Ancient” incubator found at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Portland, Oregon, as it was being torn down in 1974. Photo originally published in The Oregonian.

Modern Incubators

Above: Air-Shields CT-100 incubator. These relatively low-tech incubators (or “isolettes”) have been in widespread use throughout the US for several decades and can be found in nurseries everywhere today.

Above: The GE Ohmeda “Giraffe” incubator is a high-tech modern incubator with tight thermal regulation, servo-controlled oxygen levels, and an in-bed scale.


Julius Hess patent for a fully enclosed incubator, 1933
Julius Hess patent for a combined crib and incubator, 1933
The Lion Incubator
The Chapple Incubator
The Charlotte Box
Dr. How’s Electric Incubator
Hearson’s Thermostatic Nurse
Dr. Stephane Tarnier
Les Couveuses Enfants a la Maternité
Incubators for Sale in Paris in 1900
Paul Altmann Incubators
Dr. Jean-Louis-Paul Denucé’s Incubator Cradle
Artificial Mother for Infants, Scientific American, 1888.
Incubators and Milk Laboratory Feeding, 1897.
An Improved System of Incubators, Paris, 1896.
Description of a New Incubator, 1893.
Incubator for Children, Paris, 1883. (Auvard, French)
About Warming Devices for Premature and Frail Young Children, 1884.
A New Baby Incubator, 1892.
Sloane Hospital Incubator, 1914
Ueber Anwendung permanenter Baeder bei Neugeborenen, Franz Winckel, 1882.
English abstract of Franz Winckel’s article


Created 2/12/2000 / Last modified 7/10/2022
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