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Paul Altmann Incubators

Paul Altmann Incubators

Paul Altmann was a Berlin manufacturer of incubators that were widely used at expositions and “incubator sideshows” around the turn of the century. Altmann was an instrument maker for Robert Koch, discoverer of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. The incubators were adapted from Alexandre Lion’s design, but had a distinctive appearance that turns up in numerous early engravings and photographs, although the basic design was identical to Alexandre Lion’s incubators and the description of their operation below is nearly identical to the description in Alexandre Lion’s materials. Later, incubators based on the same design were manufactured by the Kny-Scheerer Co. of New York under license.

“The Lion Incubator manufactured by Paul Altmann was warmed by a cylindrical ‘water-boiler’ mounted on the outer wall of the unit and the infant’s cabinet was ventilated by fresh air blown through a large pipe by an electric fan on the outside of the building; the air entered the incubator through a metal box attached to the side of each cabinet. Here the air was moistened by being passed through a layer of absorbent wool suspended over a saucer containing water. From this filtering box the air passed into the bottom and center of the incubator where it was diffused and passed over the surface of hot-water coils from the external heater, and then flowed into the infant’s compartment in the upper part of the incubator. On the top of the incubator an outlet “chimney” was fitted with fan-blades which allowed only one-way passage of an upward current of exhaust air.” — “Incubator Baby Shows: A Medical and Social Frontier”, by Hannah Lieberman

Martin Couney and others are known to have used Altmann incubators for the incubator exhibits at World’s Fairs and Expositions from approximately 1896 to 1904:

  • Berliner Gewerbeausstellung [Berlin Industrial Show], 1896
  • Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl’s Court, London, 1897
  • Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, Nebraska, 1898
  • Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901
  • Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Missouri, 1904

After that, it appears that incubators for expositions in the Americas primarily used the Kny-Scheerer incubators, while expositions in Europe primarily used the Lion or Altmann incubators.

A typical lineup of Altmann incubators at an exhibition. This particular photograph is likely from the Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl’s Court. Illustrated London News, 1897.
A closeup of an early Altmann incubator. Photograph from the Illustrated London News, 1897.