|"Step right up..for one thin nickel see pint sized preemies in their incubators"|
Health care finance took an unusual course around the turn of the 20th century. Dr. Martin Courey, a pioneering OB physician who was equal part showman had a brainstorm. "Incubator Baby Exhibits" were initiated at Coney Island Amusement Park adjacent to a roller coaster. This venture was so successful that it spread to many expositions including Luna Park here in Pittsburgh.
Dr. Courey was as adept at showmanship as he was in his medical endeavors. He dressed the premature infants in oversize gowns to emphasize their miniature size and preferred nurses with the stature of a football linebacker to minimize the size appearance of the babies. A hybrid physician and carnival showman.
The amusement park exhibit resembled a typical hospital ward with nurses providing care 24/7 behind a glassed partition. After paying their 5 cent admission (inflation later increased the price of admission to a dime) the public could position themselves so that the distance between them and the babies was the length that the wrist is distal to the elbow.
At the time of the exhibits the babies were referred to as premature which had a different meaning than preterm. Medical literature of the day described the infants as "weaklings" and viewed them as lacking energy or vitality. There was much debate about the etiology being hereditary vs. immature development.
Most babies of this era were born at home and cared for by the mother. It was common practice to keep babies warm by placing them in a laundry basket warmed by hot bottles. The invention of the incubator involved a transition of care from the mother to an institutional setting. Low birth rate babies were soon transferred to the amusement park incubators for care. HIPPA regulations were many moons away in a distant future.
The amusement park shows were really a celebration of technology and the promises of hope for premature babies. Some things never change and today the publics' expectation of medical technology is stoked by images of robotic surgeries and laser beam miracles. You pay your money and take your chances.