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All The Crazy Ways We’ve Tried to Get Babies to Sleep Over the Past 200 Years

Written by Erin Feher

Photography by

Images via Smithsonian.com

For anyone who thinks the latest wave of $1,000-plus smart cribs are overkill, we think a look back at the truly bizarre history of our battle with baby sleep is in order. The Smithsonian recently published a history of the crib, and it makes our present-day contraptions—Bluetooth connected or not—look pretty practical. From 200-year-old baby hammocks to the first hand-cranked, self-rocking cradle patented in 1914 to the hacked barrel designed for co-sleeping mothers back in the late 1800s, the inventions prove that getting a baby to sleep is an age-old struggle.

One of the most anxiety-inducing examples is the “window crib,” in which the baby was placed in a cage suspended out the window, oftentimes in multistory apartment buildings. This line of terrifying contraptions was introduced shortly after American pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt insisted in his book The Care and Feeding of Children that “fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood” and that “those who sleep out of doors are stronger children.” Eleanor Roosevelt used one in their townhouse window for their daughter, Anna, until a neighbor threatened to report her for child cruelty. “This was a shock to me,” Roosevelt wrote in her autobiography, “for I thought I was being a most modern mother.” Competing for the top spot of least-cozy-looking crib is the “air crib,” invented by psychologist B.F. Skinner in 1944. Resembling a modern day tropical fish tank, the baby is completely sealed in a box with three solid walls and a ceiling, and a safety glass front, allowing both temperature and humidity to be strictly controlled (see pic below).

You can check out the full range of vintage sleep solutions over at Smithsonian.com.

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