The Infant Incubators

The Infant Incubators were the work of Dr, Martin A. Couney, who put up such incubators at amusement parks in Coney Island, Atlantic City, and elsewhere around the United States. At the time, hospitals did not have incubators for premature infants, the prevailing theory being that such infants were too weak to survive. Couney saw it as his mission to change this attitude and provide safe havens for struggling children. He exhibited at amusement parks to popularize his notion. Admission fees from the exhibits were used to pay salaries for doctors and nurses and to subsidize the running of the building.

Couney had previously exhibited his incubators in Boston at the Merchant’s and Manufacturer’s Exposition in 1903, and they were such a hit that the exhibit was copied (without Couney’s participation or permission, and using a different model incubator) at Austin and Stone’s Dime Museum in Boston. From there the exhibit was moved to Crescent Gardens (a hotel and ballroom on Revere Beach Boulevard). They were promptly shut down on a legal technicality for not being adequately provided with medical facilities. Wonderland wanted to be certain that their exhibit would not be similarly shut down, so it was attached to a hospital and had a full-time staff of doctor and nurses, and it was inspected by Couney before it opened. Couney was a stickler for strict and proper procedures and operation. No one tried to shut down the Wonderland incubators.

Photograph of the interior from the 1906 Souvenir Book

Incubator Babies from the Wonderland Incubator, photographed in a straw hat to show their tiny size.

Wonderland Palmists holding an incubator baby.

The Incubator was closed down in 1909, after the Park’s bankruptcy and austerity period, replaced by Funhouse Mirrors (probably from The House that Jack Built or Pilgrim’s Progress), but it re-opened as an Infant Incubator building for the 1910 season.

Infant Incubators continued to run at parks in Coney Island and Atlantic City into the 1930s or 1940s. Couney retired, feeling that, with incubators now standard equipment in hospitals, his work was done. Two biographies have appeared in the past few years. It appears that he may never have actually acquired a medical degree. But his work speaks for itself.

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