I want all parents to know about this man: while his name isn’t as popular as it should be, it doesn’t undermine what he did to literally save thousands of premature babies. Before his dedicated care, premie babies were basically sent with their parents to die at home. Because of his selflessness and determination, baby incubators were adopted into hospitals. Now a premature baby has an extraordinarily better chance at survival. All thanks to this man, Dr. Couney.
Dr. Martin Couney was a German doctor who made it his life’s work to save premature babies. These babies were not given special treatment at hospitals, as there was no equipment nor spare personnel to care for them. The babies either passed away shortly after birth, or were sent home to die. Parents were simply told that there was nothing to be done.
Dr. Couney (1870-1950) received medical training in various locations throughout Europe, including Berlin and France. He was involved with incubators and “side shows” in Berlin before coming to the United States for the first time in 1898. With him, he brought the individual incubators. (There was an investigation done after it was thought that some of Couney’s claims to the creation of the incubator were fabricated; links to those studies are below. Iregardless of who invented the incubator, there is no denying that Couney is the one who brought the incubator to America, and proved that hospitals should adopt them).
Couney did go back and forth a time or two between Europe and the US, but stayed for good by 1903 when he set up his most famous exhibition at Luna Park in Coney Island, New York. It should also be noted that he did have exhibitions elsewhere, and the night that another fair was destroyed by fire (Dreamland), the babies were safely rescued and relocated to Luna Park.
It may seem strange now, but the idea of a premature baby “side show” was actually brilliant; it allowed Couney to charge a small admission of 25 cents, which paid for medical nurses’ employ as well as the maintenance of the machines. The babies themselves, safely contained in their individual incubators, were protected from germs and noise. The parents of the premature babies did not have to pay for any of the medical treatment since the admission fee covered it, and their babies were given a much better chance of survival.
After some time, hospitals began opening treatment centers of their own. In 1943, Couney declared his work “finished” and closed for good. It’s reported that in over 40 years of operation, Couney’s incubator attractions had an 80% success rate and saved about 6500 newborns from almost certain death. He died a few years later in 1950, having left his mark in both the famous theme park and medical industry.
This is Lucille Horn and her daughter. She was one of the many premature babies that Dr. Couney saved with his unique sideshow attraction. She was born with a twin who died at birth. The doctors said there was nothing they could do for her and that she would meet the same fate as her sister. Her father, unwilling to give up, wrapped her up in a blanket, took a taxi to Coney Island, and put her life in the hands of Dr. Couney. She is now 94 years young spending the rest of her days in Long Beach, N.Y.
While I’ll mention again that one or two claims of Couney’s were exaggerated or inaccurate, it is confirmed that Couney is the man who brought the incubator to the United States. Thanks to him, thousands of babies went on to have fulfilling lives, and babies of their own!