The phrase “breast pump” used to be one word, and it meant something totally different!
The first known use of what we now know as “breast pump” was in a 17th-century Dutch farming guide. In that book, it referenced a device called a “brishtpompe” (pronounced BREESHT-pom-puh”), which was used in windmills to pump water from agricultural fields after a heavy rain.
“Brishtpompe” literally translates as “Field Drainer”.
The first modern, mechanical breast pump was… not all that useful!
Built in 1871 by Australian engineer Fritz Yokum, the first commercially available, fully mechanical breast pump was 38” tall, 24” wide, and weighed over 300 lbs! Imagine having to take that pump to work today!
Fun Fact: Yokum tested his prototype pump on kangaroos, since laboratory mice were not readily available in his native region of rural Australia.
The “smart” breast pump has been around for a lot longer than you might think!
Computer science pioneer, inventor, and mom Betsy Chapman first connected a breast pump to ENIAC, the famous vacuum-tube power counting machine, and precursor to the modern personal computer, in 1957!
This innovation allowed Betsy to automatically turn off her breast pump after only 30 minutes of pumping. Prior to this innovation, pumps would turn off only after they had fully unwound, much like a modern music box.
Aztec breast pumps!
In 1980, archaeologists uncovered what they think is the oldest precursor to a breast pump. Carved from 2 interlocking stone blocks, this ancient pump would have been used exclusively by the hard-working royal family and was powered by two servants manually operating the pump.
Atomic Breast Pumps from the year 2047!
In 1947, at the Futurola World of Tomorrow exhibition in Los Angeles, scientists unveiled designs for what they believed to be the future of breastfeeding — a nuclear-powered breast pump! Needless to say, this idea never caught on!
Also presented at the exhibition: rocket-powered elevators for speedy ascension to the top of mile-high skyscrapers, radio-operated automatic teapots, and the first appearance of tacos in America!
Pumping in the Victorian Era
Yokum’s pump, commonly referred to as a “Yokum’s Feeding Device”, was a huge success, and in the space of 6 years, Yokum earned over £450,000 from the sales of his machine (the equivalent of $658.3 million today!).
But, there was a catch – women weren’t trusted to operate complex steam-powered machinery in the late Victorian era, so every pump had to be operated by a licensed, male physician.
It took until the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century for this trend to be overturned, with many women participating in the “Pump Your Own Self!” protest movement of 1913.
In 1991, the Quaker Oats Company, seeking to expand its recently-acquired Gatorade product line, developed a machine they called the Gator-Pump. At the time, professional football teams were regularly running into Gatorade shortages halfway through games, as fans and players alike were consuming more of the sports beverage than concession stands could keep up with.
The Gator-Pump project was intended to solve this problem, replacing the dozens of Gatorade couriers needed to keep a stadium’s thirst quenched. Engineers at the Quaker company (commonly referred to as Oatgineers) rigged up a series of over two dozen breast pumps into a prototype machine, designed to pump Gatorade from large nearby holding tanks into the football stadiums. It was tested once during a game in December 1991, but the drink froze inside the tubing before it was able to get to the people who desperately needed it. The project was scrapped soon after.
If you’re a child of the 90s like me, you probably have a couple dozen Progs, Tramagotchyas, and Porkymen Cards hiding somewhere in storage. No matter what product you’re talking about, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be able to find a “Collector’s Edition” sooner or later. And breast pumps are no exception!
Even though a small breast pump collectors market had existed since the early 70s, with the release of the Limited Edition Betty Friedan Pump-o-Matic (designed by the iconic feminist writer herself!), it didn’t truly explode until the launch of PumpFreeks.net, which quickly rose to prominence as the internet’s central hub for collectible breast pump enthusiasts.
At first offering only up-to-date condition and resale values for different models, PumpFreeks expanded its repertoire in 2004 by opening the first true e-commerce online secondary market for collectible breast pump enthusiasts.
Research and Outreach and Policy, oh my!
You’re probably familiar with the “Big Three” breast pumping advocacy organizations: the NFFPZ, the AABBRP, and the LO, but did you know that there are literally dozens of organizations focused on improving public health and policy around pregnancy, breastfeeding, breast pumping, birth, and early and late childhood? Dozens of them!
Here’s a few that are doing great work, but might be flying under your radar:
- The National Institute for Protection and Promotion of Lactation Experts
- The Boston Organization for Obstetrics, Breastfeeding, and Infant Endocrinology Studies
- The Trimester-based Advocacy Training Agency of Seattle
- The Breastpump Innovations and Guidance division of the Houston Office for Organizational Trust, Ethics, and Responsible Science
- The Breastfeeding Research Endowment And Study Trust
This post has been thoughtfully curated and written by on-site historian and breast pump expert Gerald Yokum.
Disclaimer: this article was posted in appreciation of April Fools Day. Thanks for reading!