The largest historical piece on display in the archive collection of the AAP Pediatric History Center is a symbol of the care of the smallest babies: the Hess bed incubator, designed by Chicago pediatrician Julius H. Hess, M.D., FAAP (1876-1955).
While the bed kept babies warm and protected, the metal, industrial-looking device “was never a great success because the nurses and doctors couldn’t see the babies through the incubator and had to bend over to tend to them.”
Dr. Hess’ larger contribution to the field was his concept of regional centers for the care of premature infants.
Beginning in 1914, Dr. Hess and nurse Evelyn Lundeen operated the premature infant station, which expanded to become the first true regional nursery. The two oversaw the infant station for 30 years, caring for both sick and well premature and full-term infants requiring extra care.
Besides using the incubators, the infant station employed specially trained nurses and emphasized particular feeding and infection-control techniques. The handling of the babies also was minimized.
Among Dr. Hess’ other inventions were a heated transportation box for preemies that plugged into the cigarette lighters of Chicago taxicabs.
Perhaps hundreds of Hess incubators were manufactured, but the whereabouts of most of them are unknown. It is suspected that some of the beds were melted down for copper, but Hubbard County Historical Museum is home to one of them.
The Hubbard County Historical Museum is located at 301 Court Ave. in Park Rapids. It is open May 1 through Sept. 30. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.