Germ-free baby under glass: scientific parenting of 1947

The lost art of parenting, 1947-style:

LITTLE John Gray Jr., three months old when these pictures were taken, has seldom been outside of this glass house in which he lives. His showcase home is temperature and humidity controlled, dirt-free and has a built-in air filter. It is partially sound-proof-he can bellow without straining the family nerves. He doesn’t catch cold; visitors can’t pass their germs through the glass and the house’s temperature never varies from 84 degrees. At the slightest deviation, a bell rings. There are no draughts and neither is there the fear of smothering; there are no bed covers. Papa John Gray Sr. built the ingenious baby house in the workshop of his home in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. Only time will tell whether the child will escape the usual ills.
Showcase baby (Mar, 1947)


  1. Nah, look! He’s happy in there! He’s got a stuffed dog, a rattle, a mercury thermometer, what more could a baby want?

  2. Jerry: He’s a bubble boy!
    George: A bubble boy?
    Jerry: Yes, a bubble boy.
    Susan: What’s a bubble boy?
    Jerry: He lives in a bubble!
    George: Boy.

  3. Did everybody look like Forrest J Ackerman in 1947?

    Forry liked to do film cameos and pose for pictures with futuristic props, being grandfather of scifi fanboi geek prototype.

  4. yes, he probably did escape the usual ills, and got much worse ones instead due to having no immune system. getting the sniffles once in a while is good for a child, as is going outside and playing in the dirt, builds up the immune system for later life

  5. aw, someone’s gotta track this guy down, would make a killer BBTv or something…

    so, anyone know a 61 year old, prone to every little bug that goes around?

  6. This is the kind of thing that caused the polio epidemics. (Too much cleanliness = too little immunity acquired in early life.)

  7. studying the photo a bit more (the creepy forced expression on the mother’s face, the manic one on the father’s, and the baby’s cold, dead eyes), i have to ask, is this glass “house” for the baby’s protection, or ours?

  8. oh look, bat-shit crazy Skinnerian child rearing.

    get this, it was supposed to keep baby comfortable and borg-like.

    how cute.

  9. Times change, the microbiological vectors of disease had only been known for about 60 years and the biochemical mechanisms by which these wreak havoc on people were completely unelucidated, they knew “Germs cause disease” and therefore took the next “logical’ step, “Destroy All Germs/ No contact with germs”.
    We now know a little better.
    But it should be remembered that surgeons only started washing their hands before surgery in about 1906, a mere hundred years ago. I hope some reading this will live to see where we are a hundred years from now when it comes to understanding these processes.
    If the present is any guide to the future we too will be laughed at by the science of the future.

  10. It’s not the lack of exposure to germs that I’m worried about, as the lack of physical contact! No hugging, no rocking to sleep? That can’t be good a baby’s development!

  11. Even in the Sixties, they thought it was wrong to let babies go outside.

    I recently went hill walking in Northern Spain with my six month old son in a carrier, and the older North American women we met on the trip kept asking why we were exposing our child to so many germs. They actually said that when they were new mothers it would have been considered child abuse to take an infant outside.

    Thinking about these women, I realise that if the babies had to stay inside out of fear of germs, their mothers were also trapped inside caring for them.

    “…and she goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper.”

  12. It’s a home-made aircrib (this link is from one of the commenters on the article). Skinner’s daughter Deborah was raised in one and she refutes most of the allegations here. There’s nothing weird, unloving, or unkind about it.

    The thing is supposed to replace a regular “cage” crib. After all, you don’t hold your baby 24 hours a day. You’ve got to put her down some time. When you do, you put her in this thing, and close the cover. It’s temperature controlled so the baby don’t have to wrapped in layers and layers of cloth. The air is filtered but not germ free.

    You take the baby out many times throughout the day. For feeding, to bathe, to play, etc. When I have a child, I definitely will build one of these things. Heck, why not build one now for myself to sleep in? Got to be cheaper to temperature control this small space than the entire room, and it keeps the mosquitos out.

  13. It was theorized that the cause of my multiple allergies was because I was kept from contact with germs to an obessional level as a baby. My mother would sterilized my pacifier everytime I dropped it. Thus, excessive germ protection might lead to allergies because the system doesn’t develop enough resistance.

  14. [i]It is partially sound-proof-he can bellow without straining the family nerves.[/i]

    I’m sure THAT didn’t cause him to develop any neuroses.

  15. Ah, poor Arthur Guiterman was born in the wrong century. He would’ve loved this!

    Strictly Germ-proof

    The Antiseptic Baby and the Prophylactic Pup
    Were playing in the garden when the Bunny gamboled up;
    They looked upon the Creature with a loathing undisguised;—
    It wasn’t Disinfected and it wasn’t Sterilized.

    They said it was a Microbe and a Hotbed of Disease;
    They steamed it in a vapor of a thousand-odd degrees;
    They froze it in a freezer that was cold as Banished Hope
    And washed it in permanganate with carbolated soap.

    In sulphurated hydrogen they steeped its wiggly ears;
    They trimmed its frisky whiskers with a pair of hard-boiled shears;
    They donned their rubber mittens and they took it by the hand
    And elected it a member of the Fumigated Band.

    There’s not a Micrococcus in the garden where they play;
    They bathe in pure iodoform a dozen times a day;
    And each imbibes his rations from a Hygienic Cup—
    The Bunny and the Baby and the Prophylactic Pup.

  16. Daniel @ 22: Can’t hold your baby all the time? I have a high-needs kid and we did hold him nearly all the time for his first year except while driving: sling, co-sleeping, co-bathing, everything. We didn’t have a crib, stroller, or playpen. With him it was necessary; for most kids it wouldn’t be. It’s not fun, but it is possible.

  17. Don’t all babies that age have a slightly empty look in their eyes? It’s like John Lydon: asked about the fearsome “Rotten stare”, he remarked “I always look that way without my glasses. I’m nearly blind.” Imagine only seeing the world in black and white, not being able to focus on anything more than two feet away, and most importantly, not being able to make sense out of most things other than food, sleep, holding and excretion.

    Nice try, guys, but that’s not how you treat a baby.

  18. dainel @ 22:”After all, you don’t hold your baby 24 hours a day.”

    Like #28, my baby was high needs. All babies need lots of physical contact to develop and thrive (see ), but high needs babies need even more. During the day, my baby was either in my arms, on my chest in the sling, or playing on the floor with me right next to her. At night she slept next to me. Sensitively meeting her needs throughout infancy allowed her to grow into a very secure, easy-going, happy kid.

    #22 “You take the baby out many times throughout the day. For feeding, to bathe, to play, etc. When I have a child, I definitely will build one of these things.”

    I think what you are describing is a guinea pig, or possibly a hamster.

  19. It amazes me how OLD all the parents looked back then. These people here look like grandparents. How is she even fertile?

  20. Sekino: When I was born, I had a malformed tearduct. Repairing it involved sticking a wire up my nose and out the corner of my eye. This was in 1973. They gave me a relaxant, laid me down, and I went through the procedure. My parents said it bothered them seeing it done, but were assured that was unable to feel anything, and of course, I didn’t struggle at all.

    I am told that the first thing I did when the relaxant wore off was scream for several hours straight, until I collapsed from exhaustion. When I woke up, I whimpered for the next day or so, and flinched when anyone came near me. My Mom had to talk my Dad out of going down to the doctor’s office and beating the shit out of him. He told me he couldn’t go to my followup appointment. He didn’t trust himself.

    Of course, I don’t remember any of this, it’s all secondhand. I don’t know if there’s a connection (I’ve seen other people do it, too), but when I’m anxious about something, I cover my nose without even thinking about it.

  21. Lucky me, by tomorrow noon I will have constructed a false memory of this post where the baby has been replaced by one of those creepy yet invulnerable dolls and that will be all.

  22. Just to put this in perspective – I was born in 1957. I had chicken pox, measles, rubella twice, and mumps which left me with a shriveled nut. Smallpox was still a legitimate concern. There was a scarlet fever outbreak when I was in the 8th grade which infected more than half the school, leaving some children with permanent residual health problems. I also had one of the echoviruses which mimic polio. I went to school with kids in wheelchairs, with leg braces and other assistive devices because they did have polio. My governess had ten children, of whom seven survived infancy. And that was in the 40s. There are reasons why people were obsessed with hygiene. The child mortality rate was staggering by today’s standards.

  23. ♫ It’s the hard-knock life for us!
    It’s the hard-knock life for us!
    ‘Steada treated,
    We get tricked!
    ‘Steada kisses,
    We get kicked! ♫♪


  24. @35: If there is a CoS facility in your city they can probably help you to regress to that event and purge it.

  25. Absolutely bang-on Antinous. Then as now people doing their best with what knowledge is available to them. Tough that knowledge costs so much. Good reason to pay attention to lessons learned by previous generations. Also good reason to be proud of real public health advances.

  26. “Even in the Sixties, they thought it was wrong to let babies go outside.”

    I don’t know about the US, but in the UK in the 1960s parents were advised to put their babies in their prams and leave them outide for hours at a time. They were told to feed on a four-hourly schedule and ignore any screaming between times – easier to do if your little darling is at the bottom of the garden “exercising his lungs” in the pram.

    I agree with the posters who say the parents were probably doing their best to keep their baby safe, but the lack of physical contact just makes one want to weep. I’d love to know what happened later in life… did he progress to a bedroom bubble?

  27. In later life, when John Gray, Jr. spent several years in Belvie, attendants reported that his behavior was exemplary. “It’s as though he was born to live here,” nurse Janice Royce reports.

    “Although for some reason he claws at invisible walls, he never hurt himself. He does seem to become distressed in the winter months, but moving him next to the radiator relieves that.”

  28. Dainel @ 23 – “you don’t hold your baby 24 hours a day” don’t you? i’m with Manny @ 29 and Jackie31337 @ 33 and most mothers in ‘undeveloped’ countries – why the hell not?

  29. I agree with #41 Antinous. Times have truly changed. My baby was in my arms and lap constantly, I swear it seems from birth to kindergarten. He’s healthy and intact.

    At around 14 y/o I would have loved that box to put him in for around four years or so. At nearly 19 y/o he’s a lovely human being once more and appreciates his early years close to my heart.

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