The history of the feeding bottle

The history of baby feeding

Evidence shows us that thousands of years ago many babies were artificially fed from a variety of bottles, feeding cups and other utensils, often with disastrous consequences.

In the Middle Ages horn was commonly used as drinking vessel for adults. It is documented that a cow's horn with a scrap of soft leather tied on as a teat was also often used to feed babies.

In 17th centaury Europe, leather or wood feeding bottles were used; these were later developed into pewter feeding bottles and pap boats, of which many have survived to this day. The majority of these early suckling bottles were of a flask shape, with screw on tops forming a hard round nipple.

Although the bottles evolved, both in materials and design over the next 400 years, they all had the common attribute of being unhygienic and impossible to clean thoroughly. In conjunction with an overall lack of hygiene, contaminated milk supplies and very little knowledge of babies dietary needs, the horrendous mortality rates of the under twos was only to be expected.

In the 18th and 19th century pap boats and cups were a popular feeding utensil. Many have survived to this day, pewter and Staffordshire ceramic pap feeders being the most common. The most collectable and sought after pap feeders being the silver pap boats, which were often received as a christening presents. Although the majority of pap boats were easier to clean than the early feeding bottles, the pap itself was rather undesirable. Pap in its simplest form was just boiled water and flour, with perhaps bread or egg added.

Pap boats, feeding cups and suckling bottles of the 1880's were made by many of the leading potteries, such as Wedgwood. The most common being the cream glazed earthenware, the blue and white transfer printed wares were not as common, and therefore command a high price among the present day collectors.

The ceramic suckling bottles of the late 18c and early 19c were difficult to clean, this became a little better when the glass blowers copied the design to produce free blown bottles of the same shape. The food was poured into the opening on the top; placing the thumb over the same opening regulated the flow of milk. The business end was stuffed with a piece of cloth or chamois leather. Cow teats preserved in spirit were also used, being tied onto the glass nipple.

A major breakthrough was the invention of vulcanized rubber in the 1840's. The early black Indian rubber teats had a very strong pungent smell and it was some years before suitable rubber teats were being manufactured in great numbers.

At about the same time bottles began to be mass-produced. Most were based on the either the banjo or torpedo shape and used a glass internal tube, attached to a length of black rubber tubing, culminating with a bone mouth shield and rubber teat. Because of the great difficulty in cleaning these bottles they were openly condemned by the doctors of the time, despite this thousands were still being sold well into the 1920's. The design was as such that the baby could be left to feed unattended.

The big breakthrough was the invention of the double-ended feeder by Allen and Hanbury in 1894. The design had a teat at one end and a valve at the other end. This enabled the flow of milk to be constant, but more importantly it was the ease of cleaning that made these bottles such a great success. Many other similar designs were to follow, but such was the success of the Allenbury, the improved 1900 model sold well into the 1950's.

The 1950's saw the introduction of the popular narrow neck heat resistant upright Pyrex models. The UK market did not see the wide neck versions until the 1960's, even though these had been available in the USA since the early 1920's. The wide neck bottles now come in a multitude of colours, sizes and models, with plastics replacing the glass.

All the bottles, feeders and pap boats mentioned in this brief resume, shall be looked in greater detail on the following pages. 

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