Baby strollers have come a long way in a history that spans nearly three hundred years. But just how far have they come? At first glance, you may think that today’s active strollers have nothing in common with the Victorian styled prams of the 1700s, but you may be surprised that they still share some very basic design features.
The evolutionary journey of the baby buggy is full of fits and stops, but it is a path clearly marked through history by several very big turns.
William Kent, a garden architect from England, designed the first known baby carriage for the third Duke of Devonshire in 1733. Kent, remembered more for his radical garden designs than for his carriage idea, created the baby carriage in the shape of a shell that a baby could sit in. It was decorated with a snake design and used a harness to be pulled by a goat. It also was designed with springs so that the Dukes children could ride in comfort.
Kent’s design caught on, and soon baby carriages were springing up in wealthy circles around Europe. They were amazingly detailed works of art, but they were considered luxuries at the time. The everyday middle class and working poor of the time could never afford such an extravagant baby toy.
In the years that followed, several important design changes were made to the style of the baby carriage. Most importantly, they were equipped with handles.
This was important because up until that time carriages and prams were designed as miniature horse-drawn carriages. They were built to be pulled by dogs or ponies instead of by parents. The new handles meant that the emphasis was on convenience for parents instead of a child’s entertainment value.
In the 1840s the baby carriage experienced its first big break when Queen Victoria bought three push-style baby carriages from the Hitchings Baby Stores of Ludgate Hill. These carriages were like many baby carriages of the time—they were too tall to be safe and too unstable to be really useful.
In those days, however, it was the royalty who set the fashions. By purchasing the carriages, Queen Victoria ensured that by the following year anyone who wanted to be part of high society had a baby carriage to push their children around in.
These nineteenth century models had names to reflect the need for people to be associated with royalty. Model names like Duchess or Princess were common. The Windsor and Balmoral models were also fairly popular, and they were named after famous royal homes.
It is interesting to note that when the first prams and carriages appeared in the late nineteenth century, they were banned from public footpaths as other four wheel vehicles were. Several women were prosecuted for pushing their babies on these public walking areas, but the law eventually decided that new mothers with baby carriages didn’t pose enough of a safety risk to be persecuted.
On June 18, 1889, a man named William H. Richardson walked into a Baltimore patent office with an idea that forever changed the baby carriage.
His idea was for a baby carriage that used a special joint to allow a bassinet to be turned to face the operator or face away as in conventional prams of the day. In essence, he created the first reversible baby carriage.
Several changes he made also went into the axles, which allowed for greater turning ability. Up until that time, baby carriages had solid axels that did not allow for independent wheel movement. The front wheels turned together, and the back wheels turned together. Richardson’s carriage allowed for the wheels to turn individually—which meant that the vehicle could turn 360 degrees in a much smaller turning radius.
Many of Richardson’s design modifications are still in use today.
When World War One drew to a close just before 1920, the ensuing baby boom opened the market for baby carriages to all but the poorest families. It was during this time that the issue of safety really took hold for baby carriage designers, and over the next several years some very important modifications were added.
Footbrakes became a standard feature on all baby prams and carriages. The baskets on prams were deepened so that children would have a more difficult time escaping from them. Also, most carriages were lowered, so that any child resourceful enough to get out of their basket would have a shorter trip to the ground below. Several designs were used in the twenties and thirties, but eventually the high sided, large wheeled carriage that we still see today became the norm in baby carriage design.
Aesthetically, rubber and plastic parts became more common on prams and buggies, replacing the old wicker and wood models of earlier years. Chrome also became more prevalent, starting with basic chromium plated joints used to replace expensive brass ones and later moving to every exposed piece of metal.
By the 1950s, baby carriages were a must have for any new parents. Cheap materials and safe designs made buggies fashionable again, and this time everybody could afford them.
In 1965 an aeronautical engineer from London named Owen Maclaren listened to his daughter complaining about her trip from the United States to Britain with her old pram in tow and decided to help her out. Realizing that her problem was that she needed something compact and lightweight enough that it could be stored away when not in use, Maclaren used his knowledge of airplane manifolds to build his daughter a baby buggy that could do all those things and more.
What he invented was the umbrella stroller, the first true baby “buggy” and he forever changed the baby carriage world with it. Using a light-weight aluminium frame that could fold down into a compact size, Maclaren developed his stroller to have amazing load-bearing capabilities as well as being safe enough for his grand child to ride in.
Strollers quickly replaced prams and carriages as the vehicle of choice for new parents, a trend that continues to this day. Aspects of Maclaren’s buggy can be found in literally every single baby buggy and stroller available in today’s markets—a testament to his genius.
These days, baby strollers are just as popular as they were fifty years ago. New strollers are continually being designed and upgraded in an effort to attract customers. Today’s baby buggies are light and simple to use, but full of bonuses like air filled tires, steering wheel activity bars, and drink holders. At the same time, every effort has been made to make them stylish and attractive as well.
Buggies have branched out into other markets. Now special buggies are made for new babies and toddlers. There are heavy, full sized luxury strollers and tiny fold away light-weight ones. Designers have come up with ways to combine prams and buggies, and to turn car seats into easy-to-use baby buggies. You can even buy a triple baby stroller for triplets!
Designers also make use of space age plastics and composite metals that make buggies lighter and safer than at any point in history.
In the 1980s a man named Phil Baechler decided he wanted to go for a run with his son in tow. Realizing that the standard baby wheels on his stroller would never survive a good run, he decided to replace them with bicycle tires from his garage. After a couple designs he finally came up with one that worked—and the three-wheeled “Baby Jogger” was born.
Now known widely as jogging strollers, this has been another fundamental design shift in the style and use of the baby buggy.
The baby jogging stroller has lead to other modifications, such as off-road tires for parents who like to get out of the city in their spare time, and several types of carriage strollers used to attach to bicycles. The face of the stroller is literally changing every day. Who knows what the next great buggy design will be?
The baby buggy has come a long way from the early carriages and prams of the eighteenth century to the modern jogging strollers on the streets today. One thing has always remained, however. People will always need a convenient way to get babies from point “A” to point “B”.
This in itself has secured the baby buggy’s place in the world of child care.
Garry Edwards is the owner and publisher of EveryDayStrollers.com, a site where baby strollers and travel systems are reviewed. Garry lives in the heart of Montreal, Canada and because of this, he walks a lot more than he drives. As such, Garry sees baby transportation in a wide variety of forms. He has put his technical writing skills together with his observations to create a site that helps parents make their best choices about baby strollers including the Joovy Caboose strollers and the Bumbleride Indie twin.