In A Nutshell
They say that everything old is new again, but if there’s one thing destined to remain in the past it’s the 1937 baby cage. This disturbing contraption was designed to hang outside a window—even many stories up—so babies could crawl inside it and get fresh air. More astonishing than it being invented is the fact that it actually caught on and was used by a number of London mothers looking for a convenient way to get their little ones outdoors.
The Whole Bushel
In 1930s London, lawns were scarce, cities were crowded, and apparently taking babies for walks was a hassle. Enter: the baby cage. With this wire enclosure, parents didn’t need to leave the house to give their children a healthy dose of sunshine and fresh air. The only problem was that the cage was suspended precariously off the side of a building.
The cage was originally patented in 1922 by American Emma Read, yet for whatever reason, it didn’t attract much appeal in the United States. But in 1937, the Chelsea Baby Club distributed the device to its London members as a way for the mothers to easily get their babies outdoors, even if they didn’t have a backyard or garden. Instead of immediately shunning the thing as an infant death trap, many parents slapped the cage on their apartment windows and left their children’s fate in the care of a handful of bolts and screws. Not to be outdone by the Chelsea Baby Club, London’s East Poplar borough council offered to attach the cages outside its tenement windows as well.
Although the patent had designs for versions with roofs, the most commonly used cages were completely open to the elements and susceptible to bird droppings and whatever projectiles neighborhood kids wanted to throw. There was, however, plenty of room for toddlers to sleep and play with toys, and they did indeed get some fresh air.
In the patent, Read describes the purpose of the cage by stating, “It is well known that a great many difficulties rise in raising and properly housing babies and small children in crowded cities, that is to say from the health viewpoint. With these facts in view it is the purpose of the present invention to provide an article of manufacture for babies and young children to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be placed.”
The baby cage eventually fell out of fashion—probably around the 1940s, when even the most lackadaisical mothers knew a little fence wire wouldn’t protect their child from the Blitz. Unsurprisingly, the cage never made a comeback.