Episode 4: 618.9201 – The Incubator Babies of Coney Island

In this episode of the Reference Desk, Hailee tells us about the strange Coney Island sideshow responsible for saving hundreds of lives. Martin Couney’s Infant Incubator facility was one of Coney Island’s most popular exhibits. It may have been a strange place for infants to be cared for, but for much of the early-to-mid twentieth century, there were very few options available for premature infants and their families. Listen in to see how, in a career spanning nearly half a century, one man claimed to have saved nearly 6,500 babies with a success rate of 85%.

For a full list of all the books we mentioned in this episode, please check out the episode book list on our affiliate shop page at Bookshop.org.


Life Under Glass – Radio Documentary

The Forgotten Carnival Sideshow that Saved Countless Babies

NPR: Babies On Display


Blakemore, Erin. “Baby Incubators: From Boardwalk Sideshow to Medical Marvel.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Sept. 2018, http://www.history.com/news/baby-incubators-boardwalk-sideshows-medical-marvels.

Department of Surgery , Columbia Pediatricians. History of Medicine: The Incubator Babies of Coney Island. 2021, columbiasurgery.org/news/2015/08/06/history-medicine-incubator-babies-coney-island.

“How One Man Saved a Generation of Premature Babies.” BBC News, BBC, 22 May 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36321692.

Prentice, Claire. Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine. Kindle, 2016, Amazon.

Prentice, Claire. “The Man Who Ran a Carnival Attraction That Saved Thousands of Premature Babies Wasn’t a Doctor at All.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 19 Aug. 2016, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/man-who-pretended-be-doctor-ran-worlds-fair-attraction-saved-lives-thousands-premature-babies-180960200/.

RAFFEL, DAWN. STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American … Babies. PENGUIN Books, 2019.

Rego Barry , Rebecca. “Coney Island’s Incubator Babies | JSTOR Daily.” Jstor Daily, 15 Aug. 2018, daily.jstor.org/coney-islands-incubator-babies/.

Staff, NPR. “Babies On Display: When A Hospital Couldn’t Save Them, A Sideshow Did.” NPR, NPR, 10 July 2015, http://www.npr.org/2015/07/10/421239869/babies-on-display-when-a-hospital-couldnt-save-them-a-sideshow-did.

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