Cultural changes in the 19th century spurred many new choices for mothers caring for infants. Among the new options presented to mothers were artificial infant foods, nursing bottles with rubber nipples, and “soothing syrups” that were aggressively marketed to new mothers. These products, which often made false claims about their safety, were one of many contributing factors to an infant mortality rate that, in some cities, saw 30% of infants die before the age of one. This blog will examine some of the items found during archaeological excavations at one site in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
A variety of infant bottles recovered from archaeological investigations at The Market Street Bridge site.
Rubber nipples could be fitted over the lips of these bottles. (Photo courtesy of CHRS, Inc.)
Several styles of nursing bottles were recovered at The Market Street Bridge Site (36De130). Some bottles closely resemble modern bottles with a shallow shoulder and a cylindrical non-rolling design, but others have an oval shaped body that is no longer in use. The artificial nipple, made from India Rubber, was first patented by Elijah Pratt in 1845 was soon adapted for use as a pacifier and with bottles. Poor attention to cleaning bottles and rubber nipples sometimes fostered bacterial growth which could lead to the sickness or death of a child. At the time, the causes behind illness were not widely understood.
Left: A variety of bottle sizes that once contained Eskay’s Albumenized Food (photo courtesy of CHRS, Inc.). Right: An advertisement from Harper’s Magazine Advertiser touting the benefits of Eskay’s Food.
Considering the number of nursing bottles found at The Market Street Bridge Site, it follows that artificial infant food would have been employed. Included in this collection are vessels from Eskay’s Albumenized Food, an infant food developed in late 19th century Philadelphia by druggist Frank Baum. In 1890 Baum was contracted to produce his product by pharmaceutical firm Smith, Kline & French. An advertising campaign for Eskay’s Food touted its ability to save children from starvation and make them into the picture of health. A 1918 analysis questioning the value of such products identified the main carbohydrates contained in Eskay’s Food as raw arrowroot, starch, and milk sugar. Many early infant foods or “milk modifiers” needed to be mixed with milk. Before the adoption of milk pasturization and before refridgeration was readily available at the beginning of the 20th century, milkborne diseases were not uncommon and contributed to infant mortality rates. Moreover, variations in milk quality meant that nutritional consistency of milk modifiers was unattainable.
Early medicinal syrups often contained opium, alcohol, and cannabis as active ingredients. The marketing of “soothing syrups” was targeted at adults and children alike. Evidence of their use at The Market Street Bridge Site can be seen in the bottle assemblage. Among the medicinal bottles indicating infant use were Hooper’s Anodyne for Infants (contains morphine chloride, developed in Chester, PA), Dr. Grove’s Anodyne for Infants (contains morphine sulfate, developed in Philadelphia, PA), Victor’s Infant Relief or Lung Syrup (Victor’s Infant Relief was a mixture of cannabis, spirit of nitre [nitrous ether], and chloroform), and a treatment for digestive disorders for infants (Developed by Philadelphia pharmacist Llewellyn). Not only were many of these patent medicines ineffective at treating ailments, but they could also be deadly for the patient.
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