History Of Nursing Bottles


History of Nursing Bottles

Containers used in the nursing of infants are among the oldest of vessels; pottery nursers have been found that were used as early as 1500 B.C. Such feeding devices have also come from the excavation of Greek and Roman graves. Until the 1800s baby-feeding devices were made of a variety of materials including stone, metal, wood, and pottery (the Indians of Arizona are known to have used vessels made of red clay). In eighteenth-century England pewter was popular.

Not all baby-feeding devices were made to accommodate milk. Throughout the years a soft gruel-like substance called pap was fed to small babies. Pap was made of a number of things including ground cornmeal and water with crushed walnuts added. Containers from which pap was dispensed include hollow spoons and boat-shaped vessels with hollow handles through which the pap was blown into the baby's mouth. Other pap feeders were made in a modified teapot shape of metal or ceramic.

In America it was Charles M. Windship, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who patented the first glass nursing bottle in 1841. Windship's bottle was unusual in that it was to be superimposed on the mother's breast so that the nursing infant would be deceived into thinking that the milk was coming directly from the mother.

In 1864 the idea of a glass tube stuck through a cork that fit into the neck of a glass bottle was brought to America from England. The glass tube was connected to a long rubber tube at the end of which was a nipple-shaped mouthpiece made of metal of organic materials. The tube-type-nursing bottle enjoyed popularity for a few years until it was realized that the hard-to-clean tube was a potential germ carrier. Beverage bottles were frequently used in conjunction with the tube-type devices.

Although that first rubber nipple was patented by Elijah Pratt of New York in 1845, it was not until the early 1900s that a truly practical rubber nipple for nursing bottles was developed. The pre-1900 rubber nipples not only had a strong odor but were easily destroyed in hot water. As a result, a variety of mouthpieces were used before the improvements in rubber nipples. Rags, chamois, or sponges stuffed into the neck of glass bottles were used; whittled wooden nipples were not uncommon.

In the late 1800's a large variety of glass nursing bottles were produced in the United States. While some were of the types that could stand up straight on end, most of the turn of the century types were designed to lie flat on their sides. A few in this latter group had openings on their side for the milk or pap and sometimes had permanently attached nipples.

By the end of World War II the U.S. Patent Office had issued over 230 patents for nursing bottles. Most of these are of interest to the collector who concentrates on baby-feeding bottles.

Unusual shapes and embossments are the predominant characteristics of glass nursing bottles. Some of the most interesting include specimens shaped like a baby's head, a papoose strapped to the back of its Indian mother, and a baby's shoe. But nonfigural shapes are just as interesting and unusual. Nursing bottles can be found in a variety of bladder shapes with curved necks; others are oval, cylindrical, bulbous, and rectangular. Embossments include lettered brand names and slogans such as "FEED THE BABY" and "BABY'S DELIGHT." Other embossments feature brand designs or pictures of crying babies, animals, fairy-tale characters, and toys.




A sample of my collection



Nursing bottles were rarely produced in sizes larger than sixteen ounces, and the majority held eight ounces of liquid. The larger bottles were used mostly around 1900 or before; the smaller ones became standard after the turn of the century.

Most of these containers were made in clear glass or the common aqua or light green glass. Some, however, may be located in varying shades of purple, caused by exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Closures on nursing bottles commonly are the standard cork type or feature a ring of glass over which a rubber nipple is stretched. The closing devices themselves are very interesting. If only the cork and tube types are considered there is quite a variety. Nipples, too, were and still are produced in a variety of shapes.

Co-related items in a nursing bottle collection could include the bottle closing devices and nipples mentioned above. A selection of breast pumps would certainly fit into a nursing bottle collection. The pumps enabled mothers to obtain and store for later use the needed amounts of milk. Nipple shields, also, could be considered an integral part of the nursing bottle collection; these shields were also popular just before the turn of the century. Nipple shields were usually a glass cuplike device, which fit on the mother's breast. From the cup a tube led to a rubber nipple. Though not in direct physical contact with the mother, the baby was able to obtain milk directly from the breast through the nipple shield; such shields were helpful in nursing the teething babies. Of course, teething rings, toys, and other baby items could also be included in the nursing bottle collection.

Although bottle collectors have only recently become interested in nursing bottles, doctors and museums have availed themselves of these containers for years. The early pap spoons and feeders, and vessels of metal and organic materials, are to be found mostly in the few sophisticated private collections and museums. However, today's nursing bottle collector can rely on the fact that as interest grows, more of all types will be discovered and put on the market

This Page Last Updated By Ed Bogucki on 9/12/07

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