Today it would be unimaginable, but at the beginning of the 20th Century, incubators holding premature babies were a sideshow in NYC because that was the only way to introduce what was at that time, cutting edge medical technology, to the nation.
A German born and trained physician, Dr Martin A Couney brought knowledge and experience of incubators to NYC when he immigrated here and settled in Coney Island in 1903. Only in retrospect can we marvel at the good luck that caused this highly qualified man to relocate to NYC. Lacking any other way to get people to accept what he offered he set up a Coney Island sideshow with a sign saying “Infant Incubators with Living Infants’ and people paid 25 cents each to come and look at the babies as they battled for their lives.
Many in the medical profession heavily disaproved both of the treatment and the sideshow but it was the only treatment on offer for premature babies who mostly died from Hyaline membrane disease at this time because their lungs weren’t functioning properly due to their prematurity. Doctors treating premature babies did not hang back. They sent thousands of babies to Dr Couney in the hope of saving them.
His sideshow continued for 40 years, up until the technology was widely accepted, and out of the 80000 babies he treated, 6,5000 survived a huge advance on what had happened previously. In 1937 Dr Couney was honored by the New York Medical Society for his pioneering work, a much delayed public recognition of his groundbreaking work.