The story of the doctor who saved thousands of babies and were born prematurely. The “incubator doctor” introduced this life-saving device

In the past, when the incubator was invented, some premature babies in incubators served as a major attraction for curious tourists.

There was then a doctor who set up a baby show on Coney Island. And this show saved thousands of lives.

A book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, by Dawn Raffel, tells the story of Martin Couney, a self-titled “doctor” – his credentials have been proven to be non-existent – which saved thousands of children and introduced incubators into the modern world.

He does not appear to have had medical credentials, and although he often claimed protection from the renowned French doctor Pierre-Constant Budin, who popularized incubators in Europe, there is no evidence for this claim.

What is true is that, for whatever reason, he spent 40 years as the only medical hope for the parents of children born too early in New York and beyond. The author of the book estimates that she saved between 6,500 and 7,000 lives.

Incubators were invented in Europe at the end of the 19th century, representing the evolution of innovations in Russia, Germany and France. Dr. Martin Couney claimed that in 1896 Budin, a true pioneer in the field, sent him to exhibit incubators at the Great Industrial Exhibition in Berlin.

The truth is not known about where Couney first met these machines and his motivation to make them the great cause of his life. “The Berlin exhibition had a strong impact,” says Raffel. “It was written in newspapers everywhere, including in the United States, and people began to become interested in it.”


Thus, the exhibition of incubators took place in that area for the next 40 years. Visitors were charged to see the babies, and the money was invested in this.

Over time, Couney provided genuine evidence of his success. He held meetings, inviting children who had been rescued in his incubators. In 1909, in Chicago, he even held a “most successful child” contest. The winner, a three-year-old boy named Burton, who was considered “the healthiest, most beautiful and best developed,” received an award.

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