“When you see these babies (there may be as many as twenty-five at one time) you will wonder how such strange little creatures will ever be human. They look more like tiny monkeys than the sturdy men and women they eventually will become,” an article from the World’s Fair weekly about incubator babies read. This article named “Saving Babies” was published back in 1933. At that time, hospitals did not treat prematurely born babies and as one woman who was born prematurely recalled, “They didn’t have any help for me at all. It was just: you die because you didn’t belong in the world.” But her father knew a man that could take care of her – Martin Couney.
This man helped to save 6,500 prematurely born babies by showing them off as a sideshow attraction
Martin Couney does not appear to have had any medical credentials. Although he did often claim to be a protege of the French doctor Pierre-Constant Budin – a man who popularized incubators in Europe – there was never any evidence for this claim. Incubators were developed for babies back in the 1880s, in Paris. Martin Couney first displayed them at the Berlin Exposition in 1896. From then on, he traveled to more exhibitions but finally settled in the US in 1903 to run the sideshow of babies-in-incubators, which continued on until the early 1940s.