The Time Paris Had a Baby Lottery

Popular Mechanics, via Google Books
Popular Mechanics, via Google Books / Popular Mechanics, via Google Books

In late 1911, Parisians seeking to become parents could do things the regular way. Or they could take a more unusual option offered to them that year: A baby lottery.

According to an article published in the January 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics, a foundling hospital (not really a hospital but actually a children's home) had recently held "a raffle of live babies." The hospital's management (which, the article stresses, consulted the authorities before holding the event) sought not just to find homes for these adorable, abandoned babes, but also to raise money.

In that regard, the Loterie de Bebes appears to have been a resounding success: "The proceeds of the raffle were divided among several charitable institutions," Popular Mechanics reports. "An investigation of the winners was made, of course, to determine their desirability as foster parents."

By modern standards, this sort of thing feels bizarre and crazy, not to mention neglectful. But, as John F. Ptak points out in his blog post about the lottery, "in comparison with some bitter early histories of the want of tenderness in the care of children, and keeping in mind the great leap forward in the creation of the foundling hospitals and what they represented in the face of not having anywhere for unwanted and impossible babies to go, the idea of the lottery for cute babies in 1912 doesn't look so bad when placed in its historical context ... With the terrible history of infanticide and exposure not too dimly removed from this time, the lottery seems far less horrible than its antiquarian components."

Click the photo below to see all of the winning, and winnable, babies; there's no indication that another one of these events was ever held.