The pram, a baby carriage for infants and toddlers, is mainly a Western and urban phenomenon that developed in the 1800s. Before 1800 babies were seldom carried outside of the home. When transporting babies was necessary, they were swaddled in clothing or, among the upper classes, carried by nannies. Between 1650 and 1800, a few examples of children's carts, copies of the adult equipage or cart, are known to have existed in the aristocracy. The famous English architect William Kent presumably designed an abundantly decorated baby carriage for the children of the Third Duke of Devonshire in 1733.
The first prams normally were made of wicker–not unlike a cradle mounted on (often three) wheels. The child sat in the carriage, but in the mid-1800s prams were altered so that they could be pushed and not pulled and the child could lie down to sleep. From the 1860s through the 1870s use of the pram was widespread in bourgeois families across Europe and Northern America, as prams and promenade carriages became status symbols. In the 1920s the pram became common in all social groups. Single mothers were given prams by charitable organizations or social institutions.
The production of early prams involved the collaboration of a wicker worker, a smith, and an upholsterer or saddler, but soon pram production was overtaken by carriage builders who specialized in the manufacture of complicated wheels. Later, prams were produced in particular factories. In the 1880s multiple folding prams were introduced in the United States, Germany, Denmark, and Holland. Manufacturers in England and Germany made a number of improvements to the pram, including suspension, brakes, massive rubber tires, and, after World War II, plastic handles, fiber-glass exteriors, and power steering.
The general design of prams has varied greatly over the years, running the gamut from the horse-drawn carriage to automobiles. From 1870 to 1920 prams had exceptionally high wheels, but in the 1920s and even more so in the 1930s the body of the pram was made deeper and the wheels smaller, which made the pram more steady and secure. At the same time the design was streamlined and made more functional. After World War II, the pram, inspired by American and English automobile fashion, again was made higher. The stroller or push chair dates from the 1920s, but it did not become widespread until the 1950s and 1960s due to increased mobility.
The use of prams reflects broad cultural changes concerning hygiene, urbanization, social development, and changing views of childhood, parenthood, and gender. With the introduction of pavement in urban and suburban areas in the mid-1800s, the pram became a practical means of transportation. Yet transportation was not the only purpose for prams, for in the 1880s light and fresh air were considered important in the nursing and care of young children, and doctors recommended that all parents use prams. The general economic welfare after World War II made prams more available to middle-class families, and the pram and stroller industry grew. The pram provided women–both mothers and nannies–with greater mobility. They were liberated from home and enjoyed a wider radius of action.
In the 1970s, discussion arose about child care and physical proximity, specifically whether young children are better off sleeping in a pram or being carried. Most children continue to be carried by their mothers, older sisters, or other persons in the family or community, and baby slings are common in Europe and in the United States. In Western countries a wide range of prams and strollers for special use have appeared in recent years as a result of the changing needs of parents. For example, baby joggers designed for both men and women enable them to simultaneously care for their child and maintain their health. The baby carriage industry is now concerned with accessories–beds, swings, buggies, doll's prams, high chairs, and other furniture– corresponding with the twenty-first century's conception of childhood and the various materialistic possibilities in a very differentiated world.
See also: Children's Spaces.
Dick, Diana. 1987. Yesterday's Babies, a History of Babycare. London: The Bodley Head.
Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan. 1972. The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
pram1 / pram/ • n. short for perambulator. pram2 / präm; pram/ • n. a flat-bottomed sailboat. ∎ a small, flat-bottomed rowboat for fishing.