Martin Couney and his incubator sideshow

Martin Couney never held a medical license, but he saved more than 7,000 premature babies over the course of his lifetime — by exhibiting them in incubators at his Coney Island sideshow.

Back in the early 1900s, many eugenicists had popularized the belief that premature babies were destined for death and not worth saving. But Couney challenged that idea with his exhibition, which he created after he saw chicken incubators being used as “child hatcheries” at the Chicago World’s Fair.

He saw firsthand how incubators could bring vulnerable infants back from the brink of death and was eager to replicate that success. And by the time his Coney Island sideshow closed in 1943, nearly every hospital in America had adopted his machines.

I was saved by an incubator after being born almost 7 weeks prematurely in the early 1960s. So I was fascinated to see the photos and learn the fascinating full story here.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. Janet Thank you for sharing this awesome story. As a physician in NYC I have never heard of this fantastic man and have never even seen something so small as a plaque honoring him in Coney Island. I will definitely be teaching my medical students about him so he lives on.

  2. Our pediatrician, Dr. Stanley Levine, had just a month prior to our son’s birth used his own money to purchase an incubator for our small town hospital in 1977. Our son was born 8 weeks early and only weighed a little over 3 pounds. He is now a healthy 6 ft. 3 inch 44 year old, and we have always commented on the timing of Dr. Levine’s purchase. Our handsome, kind son would not be here today without that incubator. Dr. Levine had also researched that at that time babies receiving pure oxygen in the incubators left many children totally blind. He gave our son a vitamin that he had researched to prevent this. We were so lucky to have had Dr. Levine in our lives at that time, and to have been blessed with the best son in the world.

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