Explore a rare item in our collection and discover how it started a baby-bouncing revolution in the mid-1800s
In 1847, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel echoed popular sentiment when it proclaimed Tuttle’s Baby Jumper “the Greatest Invention of the Age.” Wearing this decorative dress, a baby was supported by the padded interior sling; the four buttons at the shoulders then attached to straps secured to a stiff hoop that hung from an elastic spring fastened to a hook in the ceiling.
The suspended baby, with toes just touching the floor, could bounce, dangle, and dance, delighting themselves and observers with their wondrous acrobatics.
A rare surviving baby jumper dress (two views shown above) from the museum’s costume and textile collection features jaunty printed dots, decorative cording, and swags of fringe to emphasize the motions of the bouncing baby.
George W. Tuttle got the idea for his infant exerciser in 1846 while trying to entertain his baby sister. The enterprising twenty-year-old began selling his device almost immediately and was granted a patent in September 1847. Tuttle’s “useful and amusing invention . . . for the healthful care and exercise of little children from the age of three months upwards” quickly became the rage.
Tuttle’s patent stamp inside (visible inside the back neckline) guaranteed authenticity; advertisements noted his exclusive rights to use springs made of Charles Goodyear’s recently invented vulcanized rubber. Customers swarmed Tuttle’s New York shop at 311 Broadway, and his product was marketed by agents across the country. He sold an amazing 100,000 within a year.
The entrepreneurial Tuttle extended his patent to Europe and quickly opened establishments in London and Paris; his baby jumper was reportedly even used by Queen Victoria’s children at Buckingham Palace.
The World Rejoices
Tuttle’s brainchild came as a great relief to anxious mothers, worn-out nurses, and “persecuted fathers” who were tired of walking crying babies. Since the age-old practice of immobilizing infants with swaddling had fallen from favor, caretakers kept little ones out of harm’s way by confining them to a crib or cradle, or occasionally to a cage-like baby tender, but babies still had to be held when they were fretful. A youngster in a baby jumper, however, could amuse themselves and (it was said) be left alone in perfect safety. Tuttle’s innovative contraption cost from $2.50 to $20 but seemed to pay for itself by preventing mischievous or cranky babies from ruining household objects while on the loose.
Eminent physicians endorsed Tuttle’s creation. Dr. Keith Imray, for example, declared that the baby jumper not only protected an infant’s limbs and spine from the injury or deformity that he believed constant carrying could cause but also provided the small occupant “with recreation, exercise, and amusement, all of which contribute greatly to the improvement of its health, strength, and the equanimity of its temper.”
No more static monotony: an infant could now “take elastic leaps,” learning “calisthenics ere it cuts its teeth,” as one of several poems celebrating the invention noted. Other rhymes dwelt on ecstatic laughter of the airborne baby and the magic power of a baby jumper to make the nursery “a paradise of pleasure.”
Beyond the Nursery
Tuttle’s baby jumper was so effective at transforming crabby babies to happy ones that one admirer predicted their juvenile good humor would continue into adulthood, thus bettering the character of the world. A few had concerns, though, such as another columnist who facetiously worried that, by replacing a mother’s arms with springs of rubber, the detestable invention would deprive children of maternal love and create an entirely identical, machine-raised populace—but even this critic admitted that those who tried baby jumpers wouldn’t part with them.
While one writer expressed a desire to return to babyhood just to try Tuttle’s baby jumper, the English humor magazine Punch suggested, on the other hand, that adults could also benefit from the device. At large meetings, for example, a speaker wearing one could dangle over the assembled multitudes to be easily seen and heard, while at wharfside the apparatus could facilitate the quick and safe embarking and disembarking of steamboat passengers.
A Lasting Contribution
George W. Tuttle made a fortune from his baby jumpers, and the enterprising merchant—“a striking specimen of the intelligent, go-ahead spirit of the age”—continued to innovate. He opened Tuttle’s Emporium at 345 Broadway in 1850, selling all manner of novel and imported toys and fancy goods, the largest and most complete such store in the United States. Having brought pleasure to so many, the inventor suddenly died from congestion of the lungs in 1856, aged only thirty and unmarried. (A popular quip attributed his bachelorhood to his occupation, which “probably brought him to a realizing sense of the inconvenience resulting from matrimony.”) Tuttle’s invention—one of the first devices for exercising and engaging infants’ bodies and minds—lived on, however. As the importance of early childhood stimulation became increasingly recognized, infants have continued to enjoy this bouncing apparatus, although a special dress is no longer required and the inventor’s name is no longer a household word.
Why, Tuttle makes the nursery,
A paradise of pleasure,
And with the nurses, far and near,
His name’s a household treasure.
The babies lisp it, ere they know
A coal-pit from coal-scuttle;
Mamma’s the first word that they speak—
The second one is Tuttle.
- “Greatest Invention of the Age”: Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, June 16, 1847
- “Useful and amusing”: Ad, Lancaster Examiner, July 21, 1847
- 100,000: “Tuttle’s Contributions to the Palace,” Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, October 1, 1853, p. 212
- Buckingham Palace: The Analist, A Record of Practical Medicine in the City of New York, April 1, 1848, p. 256
- Came as a great relief: Thomas L. Lane, “Baby Jumpers,” for McMakin’s Model American Courier, reprinted in Charleston Southern Literary Gazette, September 16, 1848 (and many other papers)
- Cost: Ad, Lancaster Examiner, July 21, 1847
- Would pay for itself: Hannah Hemphill, “The Baby-Jumper,” Philadelphia Saturday Courier, June 19, 1847
- Health, strength, and equanimity: Keith Imray, MD, A Popular Cyclopedia of Modern Domestic Medicine (American Edition), New York: Gates, Steadman and Company, 1850, p. 719
- “Calisthenics ere it cuts its teeth”: Mary Howitt, “Tuttle’s Baby Jumper,” Gazette of the Union, Golden Rule and Odd-Fellows Family Companion, August 5, 1848, p. 96
- Ecstatic laughter: Frances S. Osgood, “Fanny Fay’s Baby Jumper,” in the New York Express, reprinted in Weekly Reveille (Saint Louis, MO), September 6, 1847, and in other papers (and quoted in Tuttle’s ads)
- “Paradise of pleasure”: “Cousin Caleb’s Visit to Tuttle’s Mammoth Museum of Curiosities” (ad for Tuttle’s Emporium in 34 verses to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”), Woodworth’s Youth Cabinet, January 1854, back cover
- Bettering the world: Thomas L. Lane, “Baby Jumpers,” written for McMakin’s Model American Courier, reprinted in Charleston Southern Literary Gazette, September 16, 1848 (and many other papers)
- Machine-raised populace: “Patent India-Rubber Baby Jumpers,” Louisville Daily Courier (quoting the New Haven Herald), May 19, 1846 (among others)
- Desire to return to babyhood: “The Baby Jumper,” The Polynesian (Honolulu, HI), November 13, 1847
- Benefits for adults?: Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume XIV (January to June 1848), London: Bradbury and Evans, 1848, p. 57
- Tuttle a striking specimen: “Tuttle’s Contributions to the Palace,” Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, October 1, 1853, p. 212
- Tuttle’s Emporium: George Frederick Tuttle, The Descendants of William and Elizabeth Tuttle, Rutland VT: Tuttle & Co, 1883, p. 72
- Popular quip: Pittsfield (MA) Sun, December 18, 1856, and many other papers
- Closing poetry excerpt: “Cousin Caleb’s Visit to Tuttle’s Mammoth Museum of Curiosities” (ad for Tuttle’s Emporium in 34 verses to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”), Woodworth’s Youth Cabinet, January 1854, back cover
Kristina Haugland is the museum’s Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles and Supervising Curator for the Study Room.