The Infant Incubator

Infant Incubators were invented around 30 years prior to the Pan-American Exposition but were still not widely used by the medical community in hospitals or clinics. It was recognized that the survival of premanturely born infants of around 7 months' gestation depended on keeping the infant uniformly warm, feeding it frequently, and keeping it free of disease. This was the goal of the designers of infant incubators. Proponents claimed that the survival rate of infants born 2 month's prematurely and cared for in an incubator were 85 percent.

The Infant Incubator was out of place on the Midway because it was not an entertainment so much as an educational demonstration of the most modern methods of caring for premature infants. The location of this building away from the more serious side of the Exposition irritated Dr. Martin A. Couney (aka 'Coney'), the man who managed the Incubator and who brought it from the 1900 Paris Exhibition (where it had also been assigned to the entertainment district).

The exhibit was housed in its own two-story brick building. On the ground floor were the public areas with the incubators and also a nursery where the infants who had 'graduated' from the incubator were kept until going home. Both areas were on display to the public, who paid 25 cents ($5.00 in 2001) to stroll around within boundaries created by railings.

The Qbata Company provided the incubator equipment, designed by German inventor Paul Altmann which consisted of 12 incubators, each with its own temperature-controlled environment and filtered air supply. The means of maintaining the appropriate temperature inside the steel and glass cases were by alternating water heated over Bunson burners with piped cool water, the action of which was controlled automatically by a thermostat. The managers claimed to be able to continuously maintain the temperature to within 2 degrees Fahrenheit of the optimum desired.

The infants were fed and diapers changed every two hours after they were sent to the building's second story by a basket 'elevator'. The second story was also used as a dormitory by the nurses.

Prematurely-born infant candidates for the Infant Incublator exhibit were solicited from the surrounding geographic area. At one time in August there were 18 infants being tended to. The exhibit was very popular and made $25,000 profit ($500,000 in 2001) over the 6 months of the Exposition.

After the Exposition closed, The Children's Hospital of Buffalo (opened 1892) purchased the Altmann incubators.




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