…now there’s a question I never thought I’d hear myself asking on a Sunday morning!
Whilst researching information on the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 I came across this article which appeared in the Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner on 3 July 1852:
Novel Application of Steam-Power.
Perhaps there is not another establishment in the Huddersfield district in which steam-power is applied to more purposes than is the case at Messrs. D. Shaw, Son, and Co.’s large works at Honley. The spirit of enterprise with which the worthy head of that firm has been imbued in the application of steam seems to have been caught by the workmen, as will be seen in the sequel. During the past week, the wife of the engineer has been weaning her sucking child, and the other morning she was suffering severely from the fulness of her breasts ; and having no one near to perform the operation of drawing the milk from them, she was doing that business herself by means of a tobacco-pipe. She was almost sick with the operation when her husband came in to his breakfast. On seeing his wife in this state it immediately struck that genius that he could make the tobacco-pipe perform better service than it was now doing ; and while the idea was in his mind, forthwith went back to the engine-house, inserted a small tube into the end of the vacuum pipe, and fixed the tobacco-pipe in the end of the tube. He then sent for his wife, who came and sat herself down, put the nipple of her breast into the bowl of the pipe, and had her breasts emptied much sooner and easier than could have been done by the child itself, or by any other means heretofore made use of for such a purpose. We were favoured with an opportunity on Thursday morning of seeing the woman’s breasts drawn, and could not but feel astonished to see an engine of a hundred horse-power turning a prodigious quantity of machinery, and at the same time drawing a woman’s breasts like an infant! Query, could not a similar instrumentality be applied to “cupping,” “tapping,” and other operations of a like nature?
The mill in question would Crossley Mills in Honley, then operated by David Shaw and Son.
Apart from the surrealness of an enterprising engineer hooking up his wife’s breasts to a mill’s steam engine with a tobacco pipe and then inviting members of the local press to come and watch her being milked(!), it does raise the question of whether this was essentially the first mechanical breast pump? According to the font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, the first known patent was issued to Orwell H. Needham of New York two years later.
Obviously the Honley engineer’s device was hardly portable, but was it a precursor of the modern dairy cattle milking machine? Again, according to Wikipedia, that wasn’t invented until the late 1800s.