It might sound unbelievable, but a few decades, the common cold was just as dangerous as the flu. Back then, not everyone had access to physicians, and parents with sick babies felt like nothing would save them from even the insignificant conditions we encounter nowadays. This is how many people resorted to unconventional techniques.

A mother was looking for help and went to a clinic in the weirdest places ever. The use of a machine never seen before ended up saving her baby’s life and other countless lives. Today it still does! Here’s the story behind this man’s invention…

20. Premature Babies

On 23 May 1941, baby Beth Allen was born. However, her condition was not great, as she was born three months earlier. She was a one-pound and ten-ounce baby who almost had no chance. Almost…

Her mother went to the only place she knew to save her baby: Coney Island.

19. An Odd Place?

Why was Coney Island an odd place to take your premature baby? Sure, it is filled with roller coasters, tourists and sideshow stalls, but there was also a clinic called Luna Park. It was erected in a strange surrounding, but the man inside was even more bizarre!

18. The Resident Doctor

There was a resident doctor, and he seemed a little odd dressed in a vaudevillian garb and wearing his straw boater hat. This strange man took Beth to a contraption. Who was he and how could he save her?

17. The Genius Behind The Machine

What was this machine and who was this doctor? Believe it or not, this man’s name was Martin Cohn. He was born in 1869 in Prussia and got his medical degree at the Martin Cohn. He was an apprentice of the famous French obstetrician Pierre-Constant Budin…

16. The Incubator

The neonatal technology changed the world with the invention of the incubator. These primitive cases were designed to keep a stable environment for the babies until they grew strong enough to survive outside. How did these machines work and how did Cohn introduce them into Coney Island?

15. The First Incubators

These machines would draw in and heat the external air to keep the babies warm and comfortable. It also expelled stale air through a vent. Budin was the one that encouraged Cohn to show this technology in 1896 at the Great Industrial Exposition of Berlin… What happened next?

14. An Impressed Audience

After the audience at the Exposition was impressed, Cohn was seen as an expert in neonatal care. His machines’ popularity grew, and before the beginning of the 20th century, his incubators were exhibited at fairs in the entire world. Here’s how he moved to Coney Island…

13. The Business


Cohn turned his technology into a business and decided to change his name to Martin Couney and move to Coney Island. He opened his clinic and would charge visitors a few cents to see the small babies in the remarkable machines so that mothers wouldn’t pay for his services.

12. A Spectacle

It was quite a show to see tiny babies, and nurses would even place their diamond rings on the babies’ wrists to wow the spectators about the tiny size…

Many people say that Couney’s approach was actually exploiting the infants, as he drew the crowds and took advantage of the situation. And wait until you learn about his secret past at #8!

11. The Devoted Doctor

Nonetheless, Couney was devoted to the health of the newborns. Each baby had their own heated incubator, and they were all cared around-the-clock. Every two hours, the nurses would carry the babies to their mothers who stayed upstairs to feed them.

10. Free of Charge

Couney might have charged visitors for money, but all the cents went into their care: each infant would cost him $15 – which today it is almost $400! This money would cover the expenses of his clinic and the services for the child – meaning he was offering his services for free!

9. Saving Babies

Couney did not keep evidence of his patients, but he stated that his clinic saved 85% of the infants, even his daughter. But this is where things get even more interesting – the doctor might not have been the man we’ve all thought he was…

8. Couney’s Past

In 2016, experts looked into the good doctor’s past and found some information that changed the history of this remarkable person. It seems that Couney was not Budin’s apprentice and never studied under his tutelage. And that is not all!

7. A Thesis

According to the journalist Claire Prentice who covered an article on the doctor, Couney might have not even been a licensed doctor:

“To become a physician in Germany, one was required to write a thesis.” Did he not write one? Here’s what Prentice found out…

6. No Record of the Thesis

“The U.S. National Library of Medicine has copies of the German records, the librarians could not locate a thesis written by Couney,” added Prentice.

Finally, Couney appears not to have been a medical professional. But one question remains…

After saving so many lives, does it matter whether the inventor of this life-saving machine was or wasn’t a doctor?

5. Does This Matter?

Sure, in his lifetime, such a scandal might have ended with banning the machine and not having it in hospitals today. The world would have been quite different!

When Couney introduced the incubators in the U.S, Coney Island was the only place that had these machines.

4. The Only Place In The U.S.

Incubators didn’t exist in hospitals, so the premature babies couldn’t be under proper care – unless they were taken to Couney’s clinic. Here’s another interesting fact about the doctor…

Couney tried to donate his machines to hospitals in New York City in 1940, by the institutions didn’t have properly trained personnel to use them, so they declined the offer.

3. Donating the Equipment

It was either that or the fact that during the beginning of the 20th century, people supported selective breeding – premature babies wouldn’t be fit to survive adulthood.

Even though the cultural movement toward perfection was blooming, Couney defied it and devoted his career to give all infants a chance at life.

2. A Chance At Life

He never really make a profit from his work, but he was repaid with gratitude by the children he saved, even by Beth Allen!

When she was older, Beth returned to visit Couney on Father’s Day. Her testimony in the Coney Island History Project, the 77-year-old Beth admitted that she wouldn’t have survived without the doctor’s help.

1. Father’s Day

Couney died relatively poor in 1950, but thanks to his machine, millions of premature babies are now surviving. Shortly before he died, incubators were introduced in hospitals. His response was:

“I made propaganda for the preemie. My work is done.”