Friday, January 7, 2022

A Look at Infant Care Items from the Turn of the 20th Century

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.

 Excavations conducted by Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc. (CHRS, Inc.) prior to the replacement of the Market Street Bridge in Chichester Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania uncovered a trove of 19th-early 20th century domestic wares including personal items, dishes, bottles, toys, and other objects. Among the many infant/child related items were glass baby bottles, food containers, and infant medicine bottles dating to the late-19th to early-20th centuries. 

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.

Bottles from medicinal syrups recovered from The Market Street Bridge Site. Left: Dr. Grove’s Anodyne for Infants, Center: Hoopers Anodyne for Infants, Right: a treatment for digestive orders in infants developed by Llewellyn. (Photo courtesy of CHRS, Inc.)

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.

 Thankfully, progress in scientific understanding and regulations have improved both the safety and efficacy of infant care products. Through the examination of archaeological remains, we can gain insight into the practices of the past and further appreciate the advancements that have been made.

Visit TheState Museum of Pennsylvania’s to learn about upcoming events and explore the online collection database.


Basalik, Kenneth, and Ruth et al

2015      Phase III Data Recovery Market Street Bridge Site (36DE130), Volume I. Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc., Lansdale, Pennsylvania


Centers for Disease Control

1999      Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies. Morbidity and   Mortality Weekly Report. 48(38);849-858

             Montrose Daily Press [Montrose, Colorado]

1910      Article titled “These Things Kill Babies.” 29 August:3. Montrose, Colorado  Papastavrou, 

Genitsaridi, and Komodiki et al

2015      Breastfeeding in the Course of History. Journal of Pediatrics & Neonatal Care. 2(6), p.00096.

 Wolf, Jacqueline

2001      Don't Kill Your Baby: Public Health and the Decline of Breastfeeding in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. United Kingdom: Ohio State University Press.


For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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