20 artifacts in this set
Eighteenth-century parents used cradles to keep babies warm and removed from household dangers. Parents laced babies into cradles to prevent them from falling or crawling out--you can see lacing pegs on this cradle along the top outer edge of the sides. With the baby securely restrained, mothers or other caregivers could go about their daily chores without worry.
Homes in early America could be dangerous places for infants and toddlers. Young children could accidentally fall down steps, play with sharp objects, or roll or trip into a fire. Cage-like tenders, like this one, kept little ones out of trouble while busy parents worked around the house.
Highchairs allowed a child to sit at the same level as the dining table, making it easier for parents to feed the child. Highchairs, however, were not commonplace in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Most small children had to sit on someone's lap or otherwise get a boost to table level during meals.
Eighteenth-century children had few forms of furniture made specifically for their needs: cradles, highchairs, and perhaps small chairs. This fall-front desk is a rarity. A well-to-do family probably had this made for their young son. Maybe this boy--mimicking his father who sat at a larger version of this desk--would later carry on the family business.
By the 1800s, many American parents viewed the free flow of air as beneficial to a growing child. Parents began to abandon swaddling (confining an infant with a cloth or tight-fitting garments) and the use of cradle lacing pegs. Slat and spindle cradles grew in popularity. This cradle would let fresh air surround the sleeping infant, now dressed in loose-fitting garments.
In the 1800s, American parents began to view their children as precious possessions that needed nurturing to find their place in the world. This painting shows a little girl adorned in a formal ladies' outfit sitting in a rocker. Delia's parents may have wanted to encourage her to reach her full potential and secure the family's station in society through this portrait.
By the mid-1800s, rocking chairs became a common household item for young and old. This child-sized version of a Lincoln-type rocking chair helped children model adult behavior in the home. Henry Ford selected this horsehair upholstered rocker to furnish the Sunday parlor in his birthplace--now located in Greenfield Village. He may have remembered a similar one used during his childhood.
With late-19th-century industrialization, furniture made specifically for children became more commonplace. This trade card depicts a baby seated in a highchair eager to devour breakfast. Idealized images, like this one, appealed to middle-class and well-to-do parents who were ready to purchase new child-specific furniture that they believed would keep their babies safe and healthy.
Today, many would view this jumper as antiquated and unsafe. But at the turn-of-the-20th-century it was an innovation in materials and technology. Versatile and inexpensive plywood made the jumper affordable to many American parents. A baby, secured by a restraining bar, could bounce and swing when the seat was attached to the frame. And when the seat was detached and placed on the floor, the baby had a rocking chair.
Twentieth-century parents wanted their babies to explore their world--but to do it safely. This photograph shows a baby in a tender supervised by older children. This tender was not as confining as the early-19th-century one shown above. Today, many parents place their almost-mobile babies in wheeled walkers to help them get around and, hopefully, keep them out of trouble.
Hygiene, sanitation, and a child's well-being became paramount to many parents by the early 20th century. Concerned parents furnished children's rooms with white-painted furniture and metal beds that were easy to clean and sanitize in hopes of reducing childhood diseases. The room furnished with appropriate-sized furniture with cheerful decorations provided a pleasing refuge for children away from the adult world.
Play is a crucial part of a child's development. It helps develop cognitive and social skills needed as the child grows. Some play, often encouraged by parents, reinforced gender roles. This photograph from 1946 shows a group of little girls seated at a child-sized table pretending to have a tea party.
In the 1940s, at the height of their interest in molded plywood, husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames designed a suite of children’s furniture. Each piece of furniture, crafted from a single sheet of plywood, was sturdy and light enough for a child to move and rearrange as playtime dictated. Play continued to be a significant theme in the Eames’ designs throughout their career.
Children's furniture often reflected up-to-date fashion trends found in full-sized adult versions. Parents in the 1950s could purchase this table and chair set with its modern patterned-vinyl seats and Formica tabletop. Children could sit comfortably around this fashionable playset and pretend to be mom and dad, who probably were sitting around a similar adult-sized version in the kitchen.
The Fun-Iture Company of Denver, Colorado, had "a brand-new idea for children's furniture." They made fun tables and fun chairs that were sturdy, lightweight, and easy for a child to move or carry around. The company proclaimed these tables and chairs were "expressly designed for active children of preschool age, NOT just miniature copies of adult furniture." And from the images in this ad, it sure looked like fun.
Gimbels Department Store in New York City featured Fun-Iture Company's tables and chairs in this children's department store display.
Fisher-Price Advertisement, "It Took Fisher-Price and 2,043 Mothers to Design a High Chair Like This," 1990
By the time Fisher-Price created this advertisement, highchairs for children had been around for centuries--but the company now claimed it improved on the age-old design. Fisher-Price proudly announced that it had listened to "the experts"--2,043 moms--when designing this highchair. The company stated that the sturdy and stable chair was easy to use--especially when juggling a baby with one hand--and easy to clean.