These glass banjo or turtle shaped bottles look innocuous enough. They have downright adorable names like ‘The Little Cherub’ and ‘Mummie’s Darling’ and delightful designs such as chubby babies on bear rugs. The long India rubber tubing that connected the bottle to the nipple made it easier for the busy housewife to feed the child. You didn’t have to put the bottle up to the baby’s mouth, or even hold the baby. These allowed the babies to practically feed themselves when they were hungry!
This was considered a major move forward in the science of child care as well as a significant advancement for women’s rights, freeing them from the inconvenience of breastfeeding, including the difficulty of managing the mechanics with corsets and the need to be constantly accessible for feedings.
Sounds wonderful, right? Not so much.
These bottles contributed significantly to infant mortality rates in the late 1800’s, where only 2 out of 10 babies normally survived until 2 years of age. Their use led to the deaths of thousands of babies. The rubber tubes connecting the bottle to the nipple were nearly impossible to clean and developed cracks over time, making them potent breeding grounds for numerous diseases that caused horrifying and painful deaths.
The public often ignored practical medical advice and actual facts, as demonstrated in the popular 1861 book, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management , a guide on managing a Victorian household. Mrs. Beeton advised new mothers that it was not necessary to wash the nipple for two or three weeks, allowing the bacteria to flourish and become deadly. This only added to the already problematic “banjo” design and tubing.
These bottles were kept in existence until the 1920s, even though Buffalo, NY had outlawed them in 1897 giving them the term “murder bottles”. Much of the ongoing popularity was attributed to the fact that the baby could be left unattended to feed, even before the baby was old enough to hold the bottle. The bottles were even packaged as rug cleaners and other household goods that once used up could be converted into a baby bottle!
Stay tuned for another Story from the Vaults!
Phillys.com; York Duo's Collectibles Include "Murder Bottle";
Nourishing Death; Murder Bottles
The Baby Bottle Museum: The History Of Baby Feeding (Also, source for Images Used)
BBC’s Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home (2013)
Beeton, Isabella, The Book of Household Management (1861)