The Cradle - One of the First Pieces of Furniture
Part XII

Early 1800's Cradle

    The cradle, which is one of the earliest standard pieces of furniture, has now passed into obsolescence in America. If you went out to purchase a cradle, you would be disappointed , for they are no longer made. The reason for the disappearance of cradles from the American household scene is an American mystery, for they are still made in Europe, and children need and enjoy the pleasant motion of rocking. Books on child care suggest rocking, but do not say how they should be rocked, unless they imply that the child is to be held in a rocking chair.

    At one time or another, cradles have been attached to butter churns, turnspits, dog mills, and even windmill gears to give them automatic movement, but the simple rocker cradle remained in the American household for over two centuries before its disappearance. People now prize antique cradles for storing magazines, but it seldom seems to occur to them to put them to their proper use.

    One of the most disputed examples of early American rocking furniture is the "adult cradle." It is sometimes argued that a few examples that are over six feet long were intended for twins, arranged so tht the babies could lie end-to-end instead of side-by-side. Some have been used by new mothers and babies at the same time.

    It seems that Saturday evening has always been bath night, but few of us know that it stems from a religious beginning. When the Sabbath started at sundown on Saturday, many people followed the old adage that cleanliness and Godliness go together and bathed only at that time.

    Before bathrooms existed, cedar tubs were placed before the fireplace on Saturday, half-filled with cold water, while the kettle of hot water to be added later hung over the fire. Some of the first portable tin tubs even had Biblical quotations painted on them, but not many people would now associate a bathtub with the Sabbath.

    The first tubs, like any other new-fangled gadget, assumed strange shapes. Some were made with "hips" to fit the shape of the body. Some were painted with scenic designs, some were decorated solidly with floral patterns. Among the oldest was the cradle-tub for children to splash and rock in while taking a bath.

    Excerpted by Maury Tosi
    From Eric Sloane's booklet American Yesterday (1956)