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"Baby Jumper and Support to Assist a Child While Learning to Walk." Patent no. 34766, filed by Alfred Burkholder, 1890

 

Patent no. 34766. Filing year 1890.

"Baby Jumper and Support to Assist a Child While Learning to Walk," Alfred Burkholder.

Albert Burkholder's "Combined Baby Jumper and Support to Assist a Child While Learning to Walk" is recognizable today as a Victorian-era version of the baby walker. Baby walkers of one type or another have been in use for 2,000 years, but the type promoted by Burkholder will likely soon be history for Canadian infants.

Burkholder's wheeled walker consisted of the now-familiar circular table with a central hole and legs ending in casters. Children dangled from a seat suspended in the table's padded inner ring. In Burkholder's walker, the seat within the table was detachable. Once the seat had been removed, straps attached to the inner ring extended between the baby's legs to support it while walking.

This basic design, which probably predates Burkholder, has always been a strong seller. The walker is intended to protect the child during its unsteady early walking stage, when it is prone to falls. Ironically, studies over the years have proven that the child is less safe in the walker than on its own. Infants can reach surprisingly high speeds in walkers, resulting in injury. According to one recent study, Canadian hospitals reported 451 incidents related to baby walkers over a two-year period, almost 90% involving children under one year of age and 84% involving falls down stairs. As well, the walkers can actually interfere with a child's ability to learn to walk, by reducing opportunities for it to stand and develop a sense of balance. Since 2004, the sale of walkers has been banned in Canada, with stationary versions recommended instead.

Baby jumpers in which the child dangles from a spring have enjoyed a better fate. Patent no. 2342, the "Swinging Baby's Chair" invented by William Butcher of London, Ontario, in 1873, is an example. The child bounced vertically in its seat, but could also move horizontally within a certain radius, thanks to a hinge on the support bar. The most successful version of this device, the "Jolly Jumper," was invented by another Canadian, Olivia Poole, in 1959. Inspired by the bouncing cradle boards used on the reserve where she grew up, Poole's elastic jumper hangs from a spring mounted on a door frame and limits lateral movement, permitting hours of bouncing with low risk of injury.

References

Panabaker, Janet. Inventing Women: Profiles of Women Inventors. Etobicoke, Ont.: The Women Inventors Project, 1991.

"Baby Walkers (Banned) & Stationary Activity Centres." Health Canada: Consumer Product Safety.
www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/child-enfant/equip/walk-marche/index_e.html
(accessed December 12, 2005).

"Injuries Associated with Baby Walkers." Public Health Agency of Canada: Injury Reports of the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program.
www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/injury-bles/chirpp/injrep-rapbles/walker3_e.html
(accessed November 7, 2005).

"Made in Canada: Canadian Inventors and Inventions." About.com.
http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa090100a.htm
(accessed November 7, 2005).

"Historical Documents Related to the Hazardous Products (Baby Walkers) Regulations." Health Canada: Consumer Product Safety.
www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/legislation/consultation/hist-walker_marchette_e.html
(accessed November 7, 2005).