The History of Baby Bottles

I saw an article the other day about baby bottles that were 2000-3000 years old! That got me thinking about how parents have been trying to feed their children for millennia, and I wanted to learn about the history of baby bottles. What did Victorian era baby bottles look like? What about vintage baby bottles my parents or grandparents used? I’ve seen some antique banana- shaped baby bottles, what time period are those from? 

For thousands of years, parents have found ways to feed their children, and it’s amazing to see how many of the old bottles have the same features as bottles we use today. Ways of making the milk flow slowly – today we call those slow- flow bottles. Some of these historical bottle look like breasts- today, bottle nipples look and feel like the real deal! And of course, these parents of centuries past loved and cherished their children, and ensured they were fed- just like today’s parents. 

history of baby bottles

Ancient Baby Bottles

First, let’s look back at the baby bottles of ancient history. Artisans made baby bottles from clay. Scientists suspect parents used these bottles when they were weaning their babies, as they have recently found some containing traces of milk from domesticated animals!

Ceramic baby bottles from 800-1200 BC, found in what is now Germany

Researchers uncovered three ceramic, spouted vessels believed to be prehistoric baby bottles in Bavaria. Two dated between 450 and 800 BC and another from a Bronze Age necropolis dated between 800 and 1200 BC, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Testing showed they contained traces of milk from ruminants- probably domesticated goats, cows, or sheep. I love how one is shaped like an animal!  The others look sort of breast shaped. 

Animal shaped ceramic feeding bottle from Regensburg, Germany (1350–800 BC), courtesy of Wikipedia
Ancient Greek baby bottle found in Sicily (400-500 BC)

The ancient Greeks often made baby bottles out of terracotta.  

Ancient Roman baby bottle found in northwest Turkey (0 AD)

The ancient Romans made baby bottles out of clay and dried them in an oven

Medieval Baby Bottles

1300s European baby bottle

Next, let’s look at baby bottles from the Medieval era. In 1300s Europe, babies often drank out of the narrow end of an animal horn. Parents inserted a nipple made from cloth or leather so the baby could suckle. I’m picturing a viking dad drinking mead from a horn, while holding his little viking baby who is drinking milk from the small end of another horn!

Medieval baby bottle found in Paris, France (1485-1615). Made of sandstone. 
1600-1800 pewter baby bottle from Europe

Pewter baby bottles like this were common in England, France, and Holland in the 1600-1800s. Now we see that metalworking had advanced enough that bottles could be made of metal. And people had enough metal that they made some into bottles! 

1700s teat spoon used to tip liquid into a baby’s mouth from a cup

Next, check out the 1700s version of the sippy cup! Parents attached “teat spoons” like this to the rim of a cup so they could tip the liquid into the child’s mouth (1700s).

Victorian Baby Bottles

In the 1800s, baby bottles changed quite a bit as we got better at making things from metal and glass. However, they were still quite unhygienic, with lots of nooks and crannies where germs could collect.

Ceramic bubby pot, 1770-1835

In England,  parents could fill “bubby pots” with milk and the baby drank the milk from the perforated spout. Parents may have covered the spout with cloth to slow the flow of milk. Parents would also make mixtures of bread, flour, milk, and sugar to feed to their babies with this device. 

Courtesy of The Baby Bottle Museum 

One popular bottle was shaped like a banjo or turtle, with a rubbery straw that babies could suck to feed themselves. Unfortunately, these types of bottles were difficult to clean and grew a variety of germs, leading to high infant mortality rates. 

But on the positive side, some Victorian baby bottles from the 1800s show how technology improved during that time! With rubber and glass manufacturing becoming more sophisticated, we’ll see shortly that baby bottles and hygiene associated with them changed quickly!

Pap boat, physical object, 1830~/1860: accessed September 29, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, Star of the Republic Museum.

This “pap boat” from 1850s North Carolina Carolina was used to feed infants pap, a mixture of bread and liquid that was boiled into a mushy consistency. This site has a bunch of photos of different pap boats

Glass baby bottle (1850-1900), courtesy of University of Northern Texas Libraries

Finally, in the late 1800s, scientists realized that the previous types of baby bottles were extremely difficult to clean and began recommending glass bottles, which were much easier to sterilize. Parents put glass bottles into large pots and boiled them. Thus, the classic, tall skinny bottle shape we all know was born- this way, parents could sterilize more bottles at once! 

Vintage Baby Bottles

Up next, we really see bottles kind of sort of start to look like the bottles we are familiar with today. At least these ones are all made of glass or plastic!

Banana Bottles

Double-ended nursing bottles, also known as banana bottles, were common in England and America from 1900-1950. I love these banana-shaped baby bottles, they look fun! The American Club of Infant Feeders has a great collection of banana- shaped baby bottles- check out the collection of member David Cox.

A baby bottle of the 1950s. This bottle looks like it has two nipples, but one end is actually a valve. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Vintage Baby Bottles: Fun Designs

In 1947, Samuel Callet designed six different printed bottles, manufactured by Knox Glass.  They even allowed parents and companies to customize their own bottles! 

In the 1960s and 70s, manufacturers continued to customize bottles and make them more fun. The bottles above could be customized with a name or image of the parent’s choice!

And bottles even came in new fun shapes, like these 1970s animal-shaped bottles

Modern Baby Bottles

And finally, we see today that baby bottles continue to evolve. Today’s bottles are often made of plastic, and have nipples designed to mimic a breast and real nipple. And we’ve seen innovations to prevent colic, make the bottles easier for babies to hold, easier to clean, and so on. If the history of baby bottles has taught us anything, it’s that they will continue to get better and better in the future. I can’t wait to see what baby bottles look like 20 years from now! 

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