What were the baby carrier options available in the 30's, 40's and 50's? It was far more common for babies babies to be transported in prams but some parents did carry their babies at least occasionally. The most commonly found options were repurposed car seats, homemade carriers and hip carriers. Of course traditional babywearing was still practised in some places too. This article mainly focuses on Australia and New Zealand but the United States and the UK had some similar trends.
In the 1930's I couldn't find any advertisements or photos of commerically made carriers (although I did find one mention of them). There were several homemade patterns puplished in newspapers so that seems to be the most popular option (often suggested as handy for parents to take with them holidays). These carriers looked like little canvas seats with handles. This changed in the 1940's when a pram shortage (caused by supply disruptions and materials being redirected for the war effort) led to a mini babywearing boom. There were also less home delivery options available which made the war years difficult for mums with small babies.
In December 1941 there were 950 prams were manufactured in Victoria, Australia but by November 1942 the current production was down to 450 (more than half) and at the same time there was a steady increase in the birth rate. This caused some consternation about how to transport baby without a pram. One New Zealand newspaper (the Evening Post on 18 June 1942) suggested the government should sponsor a pram factory as the best option to solve this problem. Another article from Australia titled. 'Shortage of Prams: Papoose Frame Suggested' published in the Evening Post on 15th June 1942 was more in favour of babywearing. The matron of the Karitane Mothercraft Centre Sister M. Jacobs is quoted as saying 'It would be much less tiring for the mother if she carried the baby on her back instead of in her arms. From the baby's point of view, it is a much more natural way to be carried. Babies are more comfortable if they are in an upright position,' The matron also said 'We'll have to evolve some method of baby transport if prams become unprocureable. A mother came to see me recently with her baby in a canvas bag slung over her shoulder like a knapsack. A sling in front is another way of carrying the baby. Mothers like it better than the bag at the back, because they can watch what the baby is doing"
Guides for making your own baby carrier existed from at least the 1930's. I found several similar articles describing a style of carrier that looks like a cloth seat. An article titled 'A Carrier for Baby' published in the Evening Post (New Zealand) on 25 May 1939 described how to make one -
'Nothing is more useful than a carrier for transporting a baby, either by car, bus, or train. In the shops carriers made of kid in pretty pastel colours are attractive but expensive' The article then adds advice for making your own inexpensive baby carrier at home 'You need pieces of deck chair canvas doubled (you can get it in charmingly coloured stripes nowadays) cut to the size you require. Stiffen them by slipping in pieces of plywood and sew them round a ply wood bottom, also cover on both sides with canvas. Fasten the double pieces of canvas together with large press studs, in order to hold the plywood in place, and make handles of cotton webbing. When the carrier is not in use the plywood sides may be taken out and the pieces put flat into a little case made of the canvas, so that it may be stored neatly and unobtrusively.
This would be carried like a bag - in most photos caregivers are carrying the seat between them rather than using it to strap baby to their body. See this article on vintage baby carriers for some photos of this carrier in action. This style of baby carrier may have been inspired by early infant car seats (car seats were just starting to be commercially available in the 1930's and look quite similar). Below is an example of a pattern from 1935: It appeared in the "Ideas for the Home" column in the Western Mail Thu 24 Oct 1935 Page 35 A Baby Carrier. (Perth, WA).
A more ergonomic handmade and quite modern looking baby carrier (from the United States) can be seen in this article from 1934 featured in the San Diego Union newspaper (December 24 1934) in an article titled 'Child Sees all in 'Rumble Seat' . George Hellickson made the carrier himself out of blue denim and flat cords and used it to carry his toddler daughter.
"George Hellickson came to The Tribune-Union-Ryan party yesterday equipped for comfort. Hanging from his back in what he termed a homemade rumble seat was his 3-year-old daughter Helen. The 'seat provided a clear view of proceedings for Helen, assurance that she would not be injured and free use of Hellickson's hands with comfort for both ... He took the baby through the Chicago fair in it he said"
Convertible Car Seat Carriers
Car seat for babies were available to parents from the 1930's and by the 1940's these were commonly a canvas seat with leg holes stretched over a metal frame with hooks. The hooks hung over the back of the bench-style car seat and kept the baby suspended above the seat, allowing a better view through the front windshield. Before this burlap sacks with a drawstring were used or whatever the parents could come up with at home to prop them up. Some mid century car seats handily doubled as baby carriers like the Hike-a-Pose pictured above. You could unhook the car seat and sling it over your shoulder to wear it as a back pack. This one looks like it may have some straps attached for this purpose hidden at the back. Most parents just seem to be slinging their babies just using the metal hooks that attach to the seat over their shoulder (it really doesn't look comfortable!). Car seats were certainly seen by some parents as muti purpose items and doubled as high chairs too.
Man using car seat as baby carrier on the beach Bettmann c1960
Baby car seat doubling as a high chair. https://www.oddee.com/item_98981.aspx and pictured below a similar car seat/ carrier from the late 1940's (United States)
I also came across this carrier from 1944 (from Australia). It's a similar shape but perhaps this one was created to be actually used as a baby carrier rather than a car seat. The straps certainly look softer.
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd.
Hip carriers seem to be the most popular of the carrier style available in the 1940s. Most photos I have come across from this era are of this style. There seems to be at least a few different brands, although except for the Cuddle-seat and Margaret Shaw, brand names aren't often mentioned in newspaper articles (although the Cuddle-Chair got a mention). Many of these styles of carriers were really carrying aides rather that true hands free carriers as one hand was often needed to support baby.
April 1946: Mother carrying her baby in a sling next to a newly built shopping centre in New Zealand. (Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection)
The two most popular hip carriers available in Australia from the 1940's were the Cuddle-Seat and a carrier sponsored by the Australian Women's Weekly and available by mail order (later renamed the Margaret Shaw carrier and sold at David Jones).
Sydney 1951 (https://www.instagram.com/p/Bzg0QceAQWz/)
Margaret Shaw Carrier
'Mothers are finding The Australian Women's Weekly baby-carrier a wonderful boon. It fills a much-needed want because it carries the baby who hasn't reached the sitting-up stage. As the child lies in the carrier, only one arm is needed to support its weight, so mothers have a free hand to" lead a toddler or carry the inevitable parcel. The sling, which weighs only two ounces, is made in off-white material, with a plastic-lined base, and can also be obtained with blue, beige, or grey straps. The straps are adjustable to make the sling slide-proof. The baby-carrier, which costs 15/6, is obtainable at The Australian Women's Weekly Pattern Department, 168 Castlereagh Street. Add 3 d post age (or 6 d registered) for mail orders.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) Sun 10 Aug 1947 Page 50
The Women's Weekly/Margaret Shaw carrier was designed by an Australia woman and cost $53.54 (when converted to today's money). Margaret Shaw was the the Matron of the Womens' Hospital Crown Street and was interviewed by the Australian Women's Weekly in July 1947. She explained that carrier was 'meant to help the mother in the early months, before baby can sit up and while he still needs support for his back. I have always felt sorry for the mother who has to carry a young babe and, at the same time, juggle with shopping bags and parcels. She feels that she may drop the babe, just as the babe, if he does not feel VERY SECURE, fears that he may be dropped'. A young baby could be wrapped in a shawl and put into the carrier. Only the seat of the carrier held the baby but it took some weight off and the mother only needed to support her babies' head and shoulders by cuddling baby in the crook of her elbow leaving her other hand free. 'This is what she finds a very great advantage. The young mothers to whom we demonstrated the carrier were delighted with it. One, Mrs- S. Butcher, mother of three-months-old Arthur Butcher, said:"It's wonderful. I don't notice the baby's weight at all." Mrs. T. J. Nilstrom, of Mascot,whose baby daughter Selma is seven weeks old, said:"Baby is happy in it." The Australian Women's Weekly Sat 19 Jul 1947 Page 40
The cuddle seat is another similar hip carrier invented in Austalia by William Hancock, a test pilot who had been forced to retire due to illness. He exprimented for six months before perfecting his design. The cuddle seat was marketed as being suitable for older babies and toddlers too unlike the Margaret Shaw carrier. The cuddle seat seems to be the more popular of the two (I found more references to it in newspapers and magazines and it was also later imported to the United States and the UK). A newspaper article entitled 'Novel Baby Carrier Eases Weight' from 1946 explains - the 'Cuddle-seat' has the recommendation of thousands of Australian mothers, who by practical experience know the advantage of this method ol carrying baby, especially in crowded areas and when shopping, Popularity achieved by the 'Cuddle-seat' with Australian mothers now extended to England and America, where it has been acclaimed as a definite boon. When carrierd in a 'Cuddle-seat' the baby is less weight on the mother and leaves her two hands free, Another very important feature is that the baby itself is carried In a natural position and is more comfortable. The 'Cuddle-seat' Is scientifically designed to carry babies of from four weeks to two years, It distributes the weight evenly, and balance is maintained'
The Farmer and Settler (Sydney) Fri 1 Nov 1946 Page 13
.Other hip slings
The Cuddle Chair was a very similar style to the Cuddle Seat and was sold in West Australia. 'PERTH babies are coming up in the world ! Many are now being carried around at mother's hip-
height, by means of the new "cuddle chairs" now selling briskly at city chain stores. "Cuddle Chair' is a sling arrangement which passes round the carrier's neck and has a small padded seat at the loop near her hip, on which the baby sits. "Mostly young mothers buy them," a shop girl said yesterday. "I think it would be too much for the older ones to lump around." Another salesgirl, prettily slim, chimed in with: 'I'm darn sure I'd never use one!"
Sunday Times (Perth) Sun 18 Mar 1945 Page 5 'CUDDLE CHAIRS' BOOM Photo from Sunday Times (Perth) Sun 2 Jan 1944 Page 1 Shopped With Baby In Cuddle Chair There was also yet another hip sling invented by an Australian mum (Myra Farrell) in the 1940's although I don't know if this particular one ever went into production or perhaps it was made into a DIY pattern. The carrier 'designed to help mother who must carry their babies on shopping tours in these days on no-deliveries' was featured in an article title 'Busy Mothers' Baby Carrier' in The Sun Tue 20 Apr 1943 Page 6 The hip carrier 'made from any stout material, allows the mother to have both hands free if needed. If the baby gets tired he can sleep comfortably in the carrier, and his mother need only use one hand to support him'. The carrier was described as beneficial for mothers too, improving their posture by 'preventing round shoulders'. The inventor of this particular hip sling was quite talented, as well as taking out a patent for the sling she also held patents for a rayless light which could be seen 700 miles away; a rife shell and machine gun shield; stitchless buttons, hooks and eyes, press studs;
formulas for cure of tuberculosis, asthma, and catarrh; a
skirt and pattern marker by which any style can be cut;
and a preparation which prevents fly-blowing in sheep.
Pix. Vol. 11 No. 17 (24 April 1943) pg 11-12 (photos of Myra's carrier are below.
The hip style carrier was also found in other countries too (although is does seem to have been more popular in Australia and New Zealand) . This baby carrier patent above is from the 1940's (United States). While this carrier was not a commercial success I love how the illustration shows how a baby carrier can help a mum go about her daily life by helping her with her shopping.
Hip carriers seem to have faded in popularity after the war but I have found photos of parents wearing them into the 60's and it was popular enough for a major pattern company to produce a pattern for one in 1972 (McCalls 3357).
This ad for a convertible carrier looks like it's from the 1950's judging by the clothes but I haven't been able to find any details about it. If you have any information let me know! It may possibly an updated a version of the Carry-bye which looks quite similar.
The Carry-Bye was invented in 1943 by Mrs A.C. Moores, while her husband was away at war so she could have her hands free for her other child and to carry her parcels. She spend many hours perfecting her design originally a folding canvas sling 'Mrs. Moores laughs when she thinks back to the clumsy contraption her first Carry-Bye was in comparison to the smart little job it now is, with' its nickel clips and adjustable buckles, its gay piped hood and its press-stud fasteners in colors to match the canvas."But," she will tell you, "I spent hours and hours on my first 'models' until I made one which was exactly right. I knew that no one, excepting a mother with a mother's difficulties, would take the trouble to find the very right thing they need, but this is it. Satisfied mothers have popularised my Carry-Bye, nobody else, because we have had no money for advertising." Her husband was injured during the war and could no longer farm so the couple focused on patenting and manufacturing the sling. It was succesful and was sold worldwide and was especially popular in England according to the article in the Women's Interests section of the The Land (Sydney) Fri 2 Apr 1948 Page 16 The carrier was available from at least 1947. Marketed as suitable from birth to two years The Carry-Bye weighed 15lb/6.8kg and was construction on a paper thin collapsible steel frame which enabled baby to carried in a reclining position or after six months sitting up. It came with a weather hood and a covering canvas sheet to shield the baby from wind and rain. Two adjustable straps meant that the weight of the baby was distributed to both shoulders and it also could be carried in the hand by a handle. Glen Innes Examiner Mon 27 Oct 1947 Page 4 NOVEL BABY CARRIER
Above is a photo of Dubbo englineer G. H. Griffiths carrying his 13 week's-old daughter Julianne in a baby-carrier he bought while on holiday in Sydney. This carrier looks very similar to the Carry-Bye (although it's not named in the article) and like that carrier could also be attached to a tree limb and used in a swing or converted into a folding chair. The Sun (Sydney, NSW ) Sun 3 Apr1949 Page 1 HANDY BABY CARRIER
Traditional Baby Carriers
In some places in this era mothers were still carrying their babies in this era as they always had. This Maori mother is carrying her baby in her feather cloak (1938).
Maori woman carrying a young child on her back wrapped in a feather cloak. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-12537-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22339012
Aboriginal Australian woman standing with a young girl and a carrying a baby in a coolamon (a multipurpose wooden container used to carry tools, food, and babies) at Yuendumu, Northern Territory, 1958.
Traditional babywearing (using a large shawl) was also sometimes still found in parts of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland into the 1950's This new baby is being introduced to the neighbours. 1st March 1954, Wales.
(Photo by George GreenwellDaily Mirror/Mirrorpix)
A similar shawl carry from Ireland
Attitudes to carrying babies and toddlers seem quite positive (with the exception of the Cuddle Chair sales girls quoted above) and the practicality of using a baby carrier seemed to be one of the main appeals. One Mum explains in her letter to the Mothercraft section of the Australian Women's Mirror (24 November 1948) 'Nurse While You Work' that her four month old son was recovering from a cold and wanted to be held all the time, but she also had other children who needed her She found the cuddle seat a good compromise. It allowed her to sort and put away the washing, set the table, do some tidying up and even sit down with her son in the carrier to do some darning "Small Son, happy to be snuggled up to me, would soon fall asleep, and I could then put him down again for a while"
Another respondant to the Mothercraft collum reported admiringly about a mum she met in a train who had travelling with a baby sorted (The Australian Womens Mirror 8 February 1950). Her Cuddle-Seat was very convenient for travelling, and was combined with a hands free shoulder bag (matching her travelling costume of course) to hold her essentials. Baby was happy and it gave her some hand freedom to look after her other three children.
It wasn't only mums who carried their babies, dads did too and this was mentioned in several articles and newspaper photos. In the article 'A Word From Father (Baby Clinic for Men) published in The Australian Women's Mirror on 15th May 1945 the author explains in a very honest way what life is like as a new dad. At one point his wife was so exhausted he took over looking after the baby for a few nights 'with the cosy-bye at my elbow'. His wife health was deteriorating so much that he decided he should learn to change nappies too (his wife and mother and law were quite horrified at this so it must have been quite unusual). The family doctor advised he attend a baby care class for dads run by a local baby clinic for fathers whose wives were ill. He resisted going at first as he found it too public (he seemed pretty happy to help out with any baby care needed but didn't really want other dads to know about it!). Part of the clinic visit covered baby carriers (which is good evidence that their use was fairly commom in the 40's).
'Now I either have to carry the baby or wheel it in a pram, and if there is anything worse or sillier feeling than pushing a pram I have not met it. On the job the men talk about these new carrying seats the women have. Singapore slings, we Diggers call them, and all men without a baby think they are an affectation ... I felt pretty much the same way, but when Doreen got one and showed me how comfortable it was both to the baby and to herself I changed my opinion. The clinic gave us a lecture on slings one night, and they rate high with the clinics. Since then a couple of the men wear them to carry the baby in. The sergeant was the first to start. He said it was like a bit of his uniform, it was khaki, and it did not look so bad at that. I am tempted to say you will never see me in one, but looking back at the hurdles I have already jumped I am not game to be definite about anything. There is one thing I might point out about babies and their care, and that until some of the names are changed men will always feel sillier than they need. A cosy-bye, for instance. What man can ask about a cosy-bye and not feel silly? Then a cuddle-seat. A man, any man, might wear a Singapore sling but what man will admit to toting the baby in a cuddle-seat!
The Australian woman's mirror.Vol. 21 No. 25 (15 May 1945) pages 5 and 17
Parents loved the cuddle seat and other styles for the same reasons parents enjoy babywearing today - the convenience, closeness, and the way it helps you get on with your day. There was interest in how people from other cultures carried their babies (I found one letter to a newspaper titled 'Cuddle-seats of Other Lands' and I came across a handful of similar articles and letters but there didn't seem to be much interest among Australian and New Zealand mothers in adapting and using traditional carriers. Although it could be possible that those carriers were used at least occasionally but just didn't get written about. Caregivers generally seemed to just use what they had available to them (backpacks/bags or car seats) or invented and constructed their own with varying degrees of success, some later becomming commercially available.
Interest in babywearing seems to have waned after the 1950's (possibly because prams and other baby holding gear was easily obtainable again) but babywearing never completely dissapeared (after all you can't take baby hiking in a pram!). I have found a picture of Australian tourists using a Cuddle-Seat to tour Munich with ther baby in 1960. Framed backpacks and soft packs like the snugli started to be seen from the 1960's, as well as the Meh Tai, based on an asian style traditional carrier (sold be the Australian Nursing Mothers Association) also from the late 60's. Eventually there was another revival (from around the late 1990's and probably fueled by the easy sharing of information the internet made possible) which made baby carriers much more readily available in western countries and has continued to this day
Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld) Mon 30 Nov 1942 Page 2 CARRYING THE BABY https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/151382435?searchTerm=baby%20carrying#
Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954) Thu 8 Dec 1938 Page 34 A CARRIER FOR BABY: HANDY FOR HOLIDAYS. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/44789984?searchTerm=baby%20carrier#
A CARRIER FOR BABYEVENING POST, VOLUME CXXVII, ISSUE 121, 25 MAY 1939 https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP193905188.8.131.52?query=baby+carrier&snippet=true
SHORTAGE OF PRAMSEVENING POST, VOLUME CXXXIII, ISSUE 139, 15 JUNE 1942
BABY'S OUTINGS EVENING POST, VOLUME CXXXIII, ISSUE 142, 18 JUNE 1942
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954) Wed 29 Dec 1943 Page 5 SHOPS WITH BABY IN CUDDLE CHAIR
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954) Wed 16 Jul 1947 Page 9 Baby-Carrying Problem Solved
Cuddle-seats of Other Lands (8 January 1947). (1947-01-08). In The Australian woman's mirror. 23 (7), https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/233204385?keyword=cuddle%20seat
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) Thu 3 Aug 1944 Page 4 JOE INSPECTS "CUDDLE SEAT"
The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982) Sat 19 Jul 1947 Page 9 NEW CARRIER FOR BABY...
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954) Sun 10 Aug 1947 Page 50 New carrier for young babies
The Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 - 1955) Fri 1 Nov 1946 Page 13 Novel Baby Carrier Eases Weight
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) Tue 17 Jun 1947 Page 7 Death Of Inventor Of Cuddle-seat
The Australian woman's mirror. Vol. 24 No. 53 (24 November 1948)
The Australian woman's mirror.Vol. 26 No. 11 (8 February 1950)https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-565425578/view?sectionId=nla.obj-567846693&partId=nla.obj-565442456#page/n31/mode/1up
The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954) Tue 20 Apr 1943 Page 6 Busy Mothers' Baby Carrier
Sydney Woman's Inventions Baby Carrier Makes Shopping Easy PIX (24 April 1943)
Glen Innes Examiner Mon 27 Oct 1947 Page 4 NOVEL BABY CARRIER
The Sun Sun 3 Apr 1949 Page 1 HANDY BABY CARRIER
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate Thu 3 Aug 1944 Page 4 Joe Inspects 'Cuddle Seat'
Sunday Times (Perth) Sun 18 Mar 1945 Page 5 'CUDDLE CHAIRS' BOOM
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