The truth is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days
– Flannery O’ConnorWe just spent a few days in Savannah looking for a warm, southern Christmas. Unfortunately what we found were 40ish degree days and rain. But we also found the Flannery O’Connor museum. And with it a great idea, albeit 70 years’ late, for those looking to give a unique, Rochester-made, Christmas gift. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the Kiddie–Koop from the E. M. Trimble Manufacturing Co.! Still available in some antique stores!
To put this in context, those familiar with the literary genre of Southern Gothic will likely have read the disturbing and disturbed author, Flannery O’Connor. While touring her childhood home — a three story, 20 ft. wide row house — we ran across a strange, box-like thingamajig located in her parent’s bedroom. It was a child’s bed, encased in a wooden-framed cage on wheels, with screen sides and a hinged top. The tour guide informed us that this was baby Flannery’s Kiddie-Koop, a combination crib, playpen and bassinet where she could sleep and play and be rolled around inside or outside her home, protected from insects but accessible by whatever Georgia breezes could be found.
It even folded up for maneuvering down the home’s very narrow stairs. (The guide speculated that being brought up in a portable jail cell may have contributed in some way to Flannery’s later unique view of life.)
When the guide passed around a 1920s magazine ad for the Kiddie-Koop, I noticed that it had been manufactured in Rochester. I’ve since found out that E(dward) M. Trimble had been a building contractor here prior to WWI. Becoming a new father, he wanted the safest possible playpen for his child and, not impressed by what was available, designed one of his own and had a carpenter quickly knock it together. Seeing his contraption, several friends asked Trimble to build one for them. I’m not sure what this says about Rochester parents a century ago. Already looking for a way to profitably fill his construction business’ winter down time, Trimble patented his invention, christened it the Kiddie-Koop and put it into production. (1)
The Koop became particularly popular in the southern United States and in Latin America, where the screens could guard babies against potentially dangerous insects and other tropical creatures. Indeed, the Koop promised protection, “against sun, winds, and draughts, insects, animals [and] forbidden toys.” And while, not surprisingly, the device was referred to by some as the “Chicken-Koop,” Trimble’s advertising featured a Better Homes & Garden-style mother expounding on its virtues:
Afternoons I wheel him out on the veranda for a nap or take him with me into the garden. When he wakes I lower the spring, it takes but a moment, and put in the play things. He enjoys himself without danger and I’m relieved for my work. Kiddie-Koop takes place of playpen.
When he is ready for his bath I wheel Kiddie-Koop near the fire and let down the side. You have no idea what a convenient dressing table it makes and there’s not the slightest danger of baby slipping and falling.
Trimble added other children’s furniture to his product lines, eventually changing the company name to Trimble Nurseryland Furniture, Inc. before selling out in the late 1920s. At its height, the Trimble factory on Wren Street took up an entire city block, with the Kiddie-Koop remaining in production into the 1950s, even during WWII when most of the factory was converted to manufacturing walnut stocks for the US Army’s M-1 carbine.
(1) for whatever reason, some partisans of Buckminster Fuller claim that he was the designer of the Kiddie-Koop, ignoring the fact that Trimble was awarded the patent in 1913 at a time when the 17 year old Fuller was busy being expelled from Harvard.