During the last few train and plane trips, I've been trying to finish up Ann Hulbert's history of modern childrearing experts, Raising America; turns out all the great gear is in the second half.
Like Harvard behaviorist psychologist BF Skinner's Baby Tender, which he designed and built for his second child, Deborah. The 1945 Ladies Home Journal article about the Baby Tender started out promisingly enough:
When we decided to have another child, my wife and I felt that it was time to apply a little labor-saving invention and design to the problems of the nursery. We began by going over the disheartening schedule of the young mother, step by step. We asked only one question: Is this practice important for the physical and psychological health of the baby? When it was not, we marked it for elimination. Then the "gadgeteering" began.And with its pre-minimalist lines, safety glass front, counter-height crib/changing table, and climate- and humidity-control, the Baby Tender itself was a little bit of awesome. The idea was a crib that wasn't a cage, but a baby-sized room.
The trouble started almost immediately, though, with the title of the LHJ article: "Baby in a Box." See, Skinner's other brand-name contribution to science is the Skinner Box, which is used for testing animals and rewarding them with food pellets. Almost immediately, people started conflating the two, and rumors started swirling--until at least 2004, even--that after Skinner locked his kid in a box for 2 1/2 years, she grew up to sue him for abuse before killing herself. [The daughter angrily denies killing herself in a Guardian UK article, "I was not a lab rat."]
But back to the Baby Tender. Hulbert writes that "Skinner spent a decade vainly trying to find a manufacturer to produce and popularize the self-cleaning, temperature-controlled bin that he touted as the hands-off environment infants required for optimum growth. One shyster turned out a couple of shoddy models under the name "Heir Conditioner," and the Aircrib Corporation that finally went into business in 1957 sold at most a thousand cribs in the next decade." [p.244]
In 1995, a researcher at SDSU tracked down 50 people who had been raised in Aircribs. "The outcome? Positive results across the board...Alas, the Aircrib probably doesn't have much of a future. Major companies have little incentive to mass-produce it because it can't be protected by patents. (After all, you can't get a patent on a small room.) " [This gets published in Psych Today?? Forget the patent nonsense; what if the reason they couldn't find the other 250 was because they grew up to be psychotic hobos?]
Forget the major companies. There are/were plans published for building your own Aircrib. And the original Skinner Family Aircrib is on view at the Univ. of Akron, part of the Archives of American Psychology. I'm kind of booked up working on a box for my own kid, but the Aircrib's just waiting for an entrepreneurial dad-to-be to do a little digging, roadtripping, and gadgeteering, and we'll have a whole new generation of babies in boxes in no time.