The original Baby Björn
Like the popular Baby Björn carrier for infants, Athabascan birch bark baby carriers enable the user to keep the child close to the body while at the same time allowing for hands-free activities. Many Athabascan peoples migrated seasonally with the animals, and they devised ingenious ways to carry babies as they traveled across the landscape. Made from readily available materials of birch bark and spruce root, these cradles could be quickly fashioned in a matter of hours and easily replaced as they became used and soiled. They could be quickly removed, and then used to situate the child comfortably in a nearby tree or on the ground. The main difference between the modern Baby Björn and the birch bark baby carrier is that Athabascans carried their babies on their backs, rather than strapping them to the chest.
The Baby Björn got its start from Bjorn Jakobson — himself a father of young children — after returning to Stockholm from a 1961 trip to America with an idea to market a “baby sitter” bouncer chair. At first, the fledgling entrepreneur was unable to persuade a single Stockholm department store to take a chance on the contraption. Ultimately, a few stores acquiesced, and the chair became a worldwide hit. But it was the Hjartenara (Close to the Heart) baby carrier, introduced in 1973 and later known as the Baby Björn, that made him a household name. Scientific discoveries at the time underscoring the importance of close parental contact in early childhood development fed the success of carrier. This is something that Athabascan people must have understood intuitively, as an important element of childrearing in a challenging subarctic environment.
Robert Wheatley Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1982.52.257
Photo by LeventKonuk on iStock