Vintage Baby Carriers of Bygone Times

The year was 1847 and Queen Victoria was pregnant with her 6th child, Princess Louise.

Hearing about a new type of baby carriage with three wheels which was pushed from behind, she couldn’t wait to see one.

“Albert!” she hollered, “come along, we’re off to the city to buy a pram”.

“A pram?” inquired Albert.

“Yes, yes, it’s a new type of carriage for our babies—you’ll love it!”

“Love it? repeated Albert.

“Yes, of course!” exclaimed the queen. “You know how you love inventions—well, this is one where the babies sit and you push”.

“I see”, said Albert, realizing what was coming …

An 1847 stroller from the John Leech Archives

Prams or perambulators date back to around 1733 when the Duke of Devonshire asked English architect and furniture designer William Kent to make a carriage for his children to keep them amused while they played in the grounds of Chatsworth House.

Equipped with a harness for a goat or small pony, Kent’s shell-shaped basket-on-wheels even had springs so that children could ride in comfort.

William Kent's Baby Carriage, c. 1733. Credit Studiolum
William Kent’s Baby Carriage, c. 1733. Credit Studiolum

Riding in goat-powered carts wasn’t new—children had been enjoying that since the early 17th century.

Three Children with a Goat Cart by Frans Hals, c. 1620
Three Children with a Goat Cart by Frans Hals, c. 1620

And it was still fashionable by 1890, as the grandchildren of the 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, would attest.

Major Russell Harrison and Harrison children outside the White House, 1890
Major Russell Harrison and Harrison children outside the White House, 1890

But what Kent’s design did was to inspire an entire industry of baby carriage manufacture during the Victorian era.

Starting out as three-wheeled versions that were typically pulled along by a Nanny, a later innovation allowed prams to be pushed, making it easier to keep an eye on the baby’s welfare.

Portrait of Henri Valpinçon as a child with governess by Edgar Degas
Portrait of Henri Valpinçon as a child with governess by Edgar Degas
Pram with three wheels from the period 1840-1850. Credit Antieke kinderwagen
Pram with three wheels from the period 1840-1850. Credit Antieke kinderwagen
The Champs-Elysees, view on the Arc de Triomphe by Francesco Miralles Galup (1848-1901)
The Champs-Elysees, view on the Arc de Triomphe by Francesco Miralles Galup (1848-1901)

Arriving from France, the wickerwork “Bassinet” style of pram allowed the infant to lie flat within a basket on a wheeled frame.

Pram with mattress and blanket that could be pushed or pulled c. 1866
Pram with mattress and blanket that could be pushed or pulled c. 1866

Royal patronage helped launch a fashionable craze among the well-heeled all over Europe and the United States.

So popular were prams in London by 1855 that the Rev. Benjamin Armstrong from rural Norfolk noted in his diary:

The streets are full of perambulators, a baby carriage quite new to me, whereby children are propelled by the nurse pushing instead of pulling the carriage.

Built of wood or wicker and held together with expensive brass joints, baby carriages were sometimes heavily ornamented works of art.

Pram design in manufacture from around 1858 - 1907. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around 1858 – 1907. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around from 1882 until 1919. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around from 1882 until 1919. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Promenade Baby Carriage, c. 1890. Credit Geolina163
Promenade Baby Carriage, c. 1890. Credit Geolina163

Patents for new innovations were registered on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1899, African American William H. Richardson patented a design for a reversible baby carriage, allowing the baby to face either forward or toward the person pushing the carriage.

US Patent for a reversible child's carriage
US Patent for a reversible child’s carriage

By the late Victorian era, many more people could afford a baby carriage and new coach-built luxury models came onto the market named after royalty—Princess and Duchess being popular names, as well as Balmoral and Windsor.

c. 1880s. An early wooden-bodied coach-built pram made by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross
c. 1880s. An early wooden-bodied coach-built pram made by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross

The Edwardians made perambulator design a fine art with elaborate decoration, improved maneuverability, rubber tyres, and protection from the elements.

1905 British Perambulator. Metal and wood frame, with leathercloth upholstery and reed-work decoration. V&A Museum
1905 British Perambulator. Metal and wood frame, with leathercloth upholstery and reed-work decoration. V&A Museum

And of course, babies were the big beneficiaries of all this innovation. Peekaboo!

Woman, holding umbrella, pushing baby in carriage equipped with rain cover
Woman, holding umbrella, pushing baby in carriage equipped with rain cover
Stroller used by the children of Crown Prince Gustaf Vi of Sweden. (Manufactured by Hitchings Ltd London. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury)
Stroller used by the children of Crown Prince Gustaf Vi of Sweden. (Manufactured by Hitchings Ltd London. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury)

It was definitely a baby’s world—even royal babies loved their pram rides to the park.

With a commanding position to see all the sites and a comfortable ride with someone else doing all the work, what’s not to love?

Two children of the Crown Prince of Prussia, 1907
Two children of the Crown Prince of Prussia, 1907

Waiting on them hand and foot, some siblings would go to great lengths to ensure the baby was as comfortable as possible.

c 1901. Sibling making adjustments to a pram's sun shade
c 1901. Sibling making adjustments to a pram’s sun shade

For the wealthier families, it was the Nanny’s responsibility to look after the children while the parents attended the many parties and functions on their busy social calendars.

1900. Child and Nanny walk in the Eilenriede Forest Park, Hanover
1900. Child and Nanny walk in the Eilenriede Forest Park, Hanover
1910. A pram ride in the French countryside
1910. A pram ride in the French countryside
1917. Children with their Nanny on the Paseo de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain
1917. Children with their Nanny on the Paseo de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain

Mothers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want a nanny could spend some quality time with their baby dressing them for an enjoyable pram outing.

Woman and infant posed with a baby carriage, 1913
Woman and infant posed with a baby carriage, 1913

Admiring glances and polite conversation from passers-by would be all part of the fun of owning a perambulator.

1913 Perambulator. Meissen, Germany
1913 Perambulator. Meissen, Germany

Top down, wind in the hair. Nothing quite like it.

1914. Baby Charmain, aged 7 months seated in an elaborate cane pram
1914. Baby Charmain, aged 7 months seated in an elaborate cane pram

Even fathers started to take an interest, but generally only those working in zoos.

Baby gorilla in a pram, 1917
Baby gorilla in a pram, 1917

With the arrival of the 1920s, new technology provided a way of helping to keep babies quiet—namely Radio.

Pram provided with a radio, including antenna and loudspeaker, to keep the baby quiet. United States, 1921
Pram provided with a radio, including antenna and loudspeaker, to keep the baby quiet. United States, 1921

And for the first time, babies in prams became movie stars.

The baby in the pram falling down the 'Odessa Steps' from the movie 'The Battleship Potemkin', 1925
The baby in the pram falling down the ‘Odessa Steps’ from the movie ‘The Battleship Potemkin’, 1925

Along came the 1930s and prams took on some design cues from automobiles, with shiny fenders, sports wheels, and even windows.

Baby carriage, Hungary, 1939
Baby carriage, Hungary, 1939
1930s German perambulator. Wickerwork with hardboard, wood, chromium plated metal, rubber composition. V&A museum
1930s German perambulator. Wickerwork with hardboard, wood, chromium plated metal, rubber composition. V&A museum

We’re only human and so you never know when we’ll be at war again. Best to be prepared with a gas-proof pram.

1938. Gas war resistant pram. Kent, England
1938. Gas war resistant pram. Kent, England

Fasten your seatbelts for the 1950s!

New lightweight convertible sports and luxury models entered the market.

1953 Baby Carriage. Credit Fortepan
1953 Baby Carriage. Credit Fortepan

“Mom, I think we left them for dust.”

A toddler in a lightweight sports pram, 1959
A toddler in a lightweight sports pram, 1959

Companies like A & F Saward and Silver Cross started building custom-made prams in the 1950s that were—and still are—the choice of British royalty.

1959 Baby's Royale pram made in England by A & F Saward. V&A museum
1959 Baby’s Royale pram made in England by A & F Saward. V&A museum
A period pram advertisement from the 1950s, produced by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross, portraying the classic British nanny and a Silver Cross coach-built pram
A period pram advertisement from the 1950s, produced by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross, portraying the classic British nanny and a Silver Cross coach-built pram
Modern Silver Cross Balmoral Coach-Built Pram wit a vintage style
Modern Silver Cross Balmoral Coach-Built Pram wit a vintage style


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