Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
REMINISCENCE: ARTEFACTS FROM THE HONG KONG MUSEUM OF MEDICAL SCIENCES
Rose Mak, FHKAM (Paediatrics)
Director, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences Society
The Allenburys Feeder is an infant feeding bottle made by Allen & Hanburys Limited, London, a pharmaceutical manufacturer that also produced its own “Allenburys” brand of infant foods, cod liver oil, and other dietetic products during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The bottle is banana- or boat-shaped, with a flat base that allows it to remain stable when left unattended (Fig 1a). It is made of clear moulded glass and measures about 19 cm long. It is open at both ends. The smaller opening, about 11 mm in diameter with lip and neck, is for mounting a rubber teat. The wider opening, diameter about 14 mm, is for a rubber valve with which to control air flow. Embossed on the surface of the bottle is the name ‘The “Allenburys” Feeder’, and at the bottom are gradations in ounces and tablespoons for measuring content (Fig 1b). Also embossed are the patent number 15449 and design registration number 543181. Based on these numbers, the bottle was made by a glass manufacturer from a design registered in 1909.1 The bottle was donated to the Museum in 2007, without the teat or the valve.
Figure 1. Photographs of an Allenburys Feeder. (a) Side view, showing the end for mounting a rubber teat (right) and the end for a rubber valve to control air flow (left). (b) Bottom view, showing gradations in ounces and tablespoons for measuring content
The bottle, which was used in Hong Kong, fits neatly into one hand and the thumb was used to control the valve opening and hence flow of milk (Wah KY, personal communication, April 2020). When the valve was lost, the valve opening would be stoppered by a rubber bung or cap. The teat used then was about the size of a pacifier nowadays. After use, bottles and rubber parts would be sterilised by boiling.
Before the Allenburys feeder was produced, the popular feeding bottle was turtle- or banjo-shaped with an attached length of narrow rubber tube and teat (Fig 2). The setup was difficult to clean and unhygienic, but since the bottle could be left for babies to suck on their own any time, it freed the mother from nursing the baby and was popular. By the end of the 19th century, the germ theory of disease was becoming known, and the medical profession and the public were beginning to realise the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in the prevention of disease.
Figure 2. Feeding bottle popular before the Allenburys feeder was launched (Wellcome Library: http://catalogue.wellcomelibrary.org/record=b1294326; CC BY 4.0)
The design of the Allenburys bottle was a marked improvement over all previous feeding bottles. When it was introduced to the British Medical Association at their annual meeting in 1895, the doctors welcomed it. It was “without the manifold defects of the old-fashioned ‘tube’ feeder” and was “most easily cleansed—a most desirable thing in a feeding bottle”.2 Even the teat that came with the bottle could be easily turned inside out for cleaning. Ease of cleaning and endorsement by the medical profession would become the bottle’s main marketing points.
When the Allenburys Feeder was launched, the Allenburys brand of baby milk powder foods were already successful. The new feeder bottle was for holding the feeds. Both were promoted together aggressively to the medical profession and to the public. The bottle became a commercial success. Other companies followed and produced many variations of the bottle. One of these was “The Hygienic Feeder”.
According to Wah (personal communication), from the end of the World War II till the early 1950s in Hong Kong, resources were scarce. Nearly all infants were breast fed, but for those who needed bottle feeding, the bottles available were all boat-shaped. As for the Allenburys milk foods, these were once sold in Hong Kong3 but were not as popular as other contemporary imported brands. By the early 1950s, Allen & Hanburys had ceased production of its milk food products.4
By the late 1950s, the boat-shaped bottle had nearly but all disappeared from the Hong Kong scene (Wah, personal communication). They had been gradually replaced by the upright cylindrical wide screw neck feeding bottles that are familiar today. The upright bottle is more stable, and together with the wide neck and mouth, makes it much easier for adding milk powder and water. Cleaning is even easier. Heat-resistant glass (invented in the 1920s) can better withstand thermal shock and shattering. The screw ring collar (invented in the 1940s) which can seal the teat to the bottle without touching the teat prevented leaks as well as contamination.
After being in use for over 50 years, the Allenburys Feeder finally passed into history. Its simple design was a breakthrough in the evolution of the modern-day hygienic feeding bottle.
The author thanks KY Wah, a retired Registered Nurse and Midwife, and former General Manager (Nursing) of United Christian Hospital, Hong Kong, for providing an account of the use of the Allenburys Feeder in Hong Kong.
1. The National Archives’ catalogue, United Kingdom. Available from: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C440503. Accessed 18 Apr 2020.
2. Annual museum. Br Med J 1895;2:292. Crossref
3. The Hong Kong Government Gazette, No. 530. 10 May 1940. Available from: http://sunzi.lib.hku.hk/hkgro/view/g1940/581698.pdf. Accessed 18 Apr 2020.
4. Hunter P. Veterinary Medicine: A Guide to Historical Sources (Studies in British Business Archives). Routledge; 2004.