Devices for storing your baby

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

Too bad I don't live in the 1920s or I'd purchase one of these Boggin's Window Cribs, a 2' x 2' x 3' metal box that you could store your baby in at night (kind of like an air conditioner, but for babies). According to The Health-Care of the Baby by Louis Fisher (1920), window cribs were "admirably adapted for city apartments."


Twenty-plus years later, B.F. Skinner made a more sophisticated version, with temperature and humidity controls, clean modernist lines, and no danger of falling several stories down to the sidewalk. (Photo here.)


  1. I would like to know if anyone actually bought one of these devices or if mothers of 80 years ago thought they were a bad idea even then.

  2. This might have been part of the sleeping-outdoors fad. Many homes of the period had bedrooms that opened onto sleeping porches.

  3. In the second illustration, the window seems to be down. I wish I had known about this when my kids were infants, I would have really been able to sleep better without all the distractions and crying.

  4. If you were an infant in the 1920s, and you now have an unexplained phobia of pigeons, I think we’ve just solved the mystery.

    This is a wonderful find. Thanks for posting!

  5. This isn’t something lost to history. In Williamsburg Brooklyn (NYC), apartment buildings built by and for orthodox Jews have wrought iron cages built over the apartment windows. At any time of a sunny day you can see multiple children climbing around in a few of the oversized window box cages. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

  6. I would not hang a cat out without supervision, what about air pollution? Maybe it was healthier than tobacco smoke?

  7. Remember that this was before air conditioning.

    I used to live on the 4th floor of a Boston brownstone, and in the summer I would sleep on the balcony. It was at least 10 degrees cooler than inside.

  8. Honestly, given the details of how it’s attached in the illustration, the thing looks extraordinarily unlikely to come loose at all. With the proper materials even I, a non-engineer, would be able to make that design failsafe for up to likely 5 to 10 times the intended weight load.

  9. but some drains in the bottom of it and do away with the need for costly diaper washing.

    But you will need an umbrella when venturing outdoors.

  10. Actually, it was called a Baby Cache and, in conjunction with Venetian blinds, was used by single mothers when gentlemen called.
    I think.

  11. Air conditioners? Right. That’s why they match the full size of picture windows, including the adjacent opening smaller windows and are on upper stories where there’s no danger of break ins or theft – which are the purpose of iron bar caged air conditioners.

  12. #16 is probably right but the pictures look singularly unlikely to be as safe as he would build. As an engineer and mum, I would not trust my baby’s life to the leverage exerted on the single supporting bar across the window.

    However, I dont think its a bad idea per se. Lots of flats (appartments) have balconies that parents make safe by putting netting or extra bars above the railing so the kids can play out there. I was born on an old Thames barge converted to a living boat and my dad built a big wooden cage so they would not have to watch me every waking second of the day. If you dont have a garden (and lots of city dwellers dont) something like this isnt so bad. Putting the ‘cage’ label on it is unduly negative.

  13. In the second picture, is that a witch flying on a broom in the background just to the right of the baby’s head?

  14. When the bough* breaks, the cradle will fall,
    And down will come baby, cradle and all.
    *Or, as shown, the flimsy little bar across the middle of the window

  15. Nosehat,
    I was just thinking the same thing! Isn’t this just begging pigeons to set up home here?

  16. In Bombay (and other crowded Indian cities), people cover their balconies with metal cages that jut out from the buildings for safety and to get that little bit of space for plants or drying clothes.. and I’ve often seen little kids playing around inside them and sleeping there (nice when you don’t have AC). These are generally professionally (and permanently) installed though.

  17. Comment 11 already brought it up, but you see pretty much this same thing all the time in the Hasidic neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

    Its actually a bit weird. You’re walking down the street and you look up and see what appears to be a large number of children in cages on the sides of buildings.

  18. I understand different eras, different science, etc….but once in a while I see something like this that makes me just wonder what they were thinking to come to the conclusion that it was a good idea.

    But then again — with coal or wood stoves inside, no vacuum cleaners, and contemporary household hygiene (animals, no refrigeration….) it’s possible that the air outside the window WAS cleaner, even with horses, smog, etc.

  19. “View from the street”: baby looking out.
    “View from the room”: baby looking out.

    Why has no-one else noticed that the BABY HAS TWO FACES! What is this monstrosity?!

  20. Outdoor sleeping boxes actually make some sense: I’ve heard that before the days of air conditioning, plenty of city folk would sleep on their balconies in the summer to escape the heat. Considering that even electric fans weren’t in common use until the late 1920’s, the indoor swelter must have been boggling.

    Several summers ago, I went to visit my air-conditionerless friend who lived in a 10th floor studio in Philadelphia. The inside temperature – with windows open – was about 110F. I would have gladly slept on the balcony, had there been one!

  21. It was winter 2 years ago when my son, 3 years old at the time, woke up with a terrible coughing attack in the middle of the night. After cough-syrup, tea, and chest-rub it didn’t get better, but worse. The coughing attacks were so close together he could hardly breath, so we dashed of to the hospital where the nurse immediately took us over to the closest window, pulled it open, and told me to hold him out as far as safely possible: almost Michael Jackson style. The cold damp night air had him breathing normal in a matter of minutes.

    The doctor then gave us medication, but also told us for this and most types of cough best therapy would be to wrap him up warm and have him sleep under an open window. We did so for a week, and he has never had an attack since.

    Considering healthcare and medication possibilities at the time, and assuming the window crib would be at least as safe as an air-conditioner (you don’t want them falling on pedestrians either, bayby inside or not) this doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

  22. Sleeping porches are quite commonplace in North America, although getting less common since air conditioning. They were often mounted outside of existing windows as retro-fits to existing houses.

    I’ve always liked the disappearing ones, they remind me of murphy beds and pop-up campers. I saw one once where the back of a wall-mounted wooden bench, shaped much like a church pew, folded forward to reveal a secret double-bed sized sleeping porch that was invisible from the street.

    If you sleep with the window open, you’d LOVE a sleeping porch.

  23. Tak, you once put down us “land-lubbers” and I immediately pictured you as a disembodied brain in a jar on a shelf somewhere. That image has morphed only somewhat over time. :)

  24. He’s a larval Old One. But Old Ones eat their young, so he’s been dodging Great Cthulhu for centuries.

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