The history of car seats started around the same time the first baby monitor was being invented in 1930s. While cars were around from as early as 1900s, no restraint system was used until 1933 when Bunny Bear Company developed the first restraint system for children, although with no safety features.
Prior to baby car seat parents used extremely unsafe booster car seats similar to the one shown below to elevate the kids when in the car. The main problem the parents were facing and wanted to solve with the booster seat was that little kids were too low to be seen by the parents and booster seats helped elevate them to a level that they can be engaged or be supervised effectively.
Baby Car Seat History Timeline
The table shows the evolution of baby car seats from the 1930s to the present.
|1933||Bunny Bear Company developed the first child car seat without any safety considerations|
|1940s||A bulky child vest was used before baby car seats.|
|1962||The first car safety seat released by Englishman named Jean Ames. The same year, an American named Len Rivkin designed a metal-framed seat with a safety buckle.|
|1965||GM develops Love Seat|
|1968||Tot Guard released by Ford|
|1970s||Bobby Mac convertible seat is a hit with parent, dread-facing or forward-facing|
|1971||The first federal standards for car seat safety require a three-point child harness as well as a safety belt to attach the car seat to the vehicle.|
|1980s||Crash testing for car seats is required. Car seats gradually become sturdier and more protective.|
|1997||ISofix, a precursor to today’s LATCH (Lower, Anchors & Tethers for Children) system, is the first attempt at an anchor system for securing child car seats.|
|2002||LATCH is mandated by law. Washington and California pass the first booster seat laws for children over 40 pounds.|
|2000s||Car seat technology takes a huge leap forward. Infant car seats, 3-in-1 car seats, and travel system car seats all debut in the U.S.|
1933: The First Child Car Seat
1933 is a pivotal year and marked the beginning of a journey that opened the door for improvements in child safety in a car.
The Bunny Bear Company made child seats in 1933, however, the devices were mainly intended to stop kids from moving around the car.
As shown above, the car seat was not really meant to improve the safety of the baby in the car
Seeing the demand, Art Hoffmann’s team at GM abandoned the vest in favor of car seats and they got started on developing the first infant car seat that became a reality in 1965. It was originally called a love seat and Art Hoffman and General Motors are credited for the improvement of safety and elimination of the unsafe booster car seats.
Bunny Bear Company produced a seat that was basically a booster seat.
Prior to 1960s, as shown by the Bunny Bear Company design, baby car seats were not designed to protect the child in the event of an accident. Instead, these seats confined the children, raised them above the level of the passenger seat, and made them more visible to adults from the front seat.
Through the early 1960s one could buy devices like “The Tiny World Sit-N-Stand Carseat,” which allowed kids to stand up and stretch their legs mid-voyage. Other car seats consisted of plastic seats, with hooks to loosely anchor them, and some featured a steering wheel a kid could spin just like a driving parent. Suffice to say none of these car seats were safe — nor were they created with safety in mind.
It wasn’t until 1962 that the British inventor Jean Ames built a rear-facing car seat designed to keep kids safe in the event of a crash. Leonard Rivkin, an American inventor, developed a forward-facing model shortly thereafter that was basically a metal frame surrounded by a strap. Neither were very safe by today’s standards.
The Ames design had straps that held the padded seat against the rear passenger seat. Within the seat, the child was restrained by a Y-shaped harness that slipped over its head and both shoulders and fastened between the legs. Other designs to accommodate growing children followed quickly over the next several years.
In the United States, Ford was the first manufacturer to offer a car seat. Called the “Astro-Guard,” the $30 bucket seat kept kids stationary via a harness anchored at four points. But it offered little protection for children’s vulnerable heads and necks. Ford tweaked its design and by 1965 became the first manufacturer to offer a relatively safe car seat, known as the Tot-Guard. This basic seat featured a plastic shell that provided support and restraint to the upper body. General Motors’ rear-facing infant “Love Seats” followed in 1969. These featured different size options for infants and children and were made from polypropylene and padded with urethane foam.
Both GM and Ford’s offerings passed the federal government’s first crash test, performed in 1971. But when Consumer Reports followed with their first test of car seats in 1972, both failed. There were other one-offs, like the short-lived and very troubling “Steel Travel Platform,” sold in 1969, which was just a vinyl pad upon which kids could freely play in the back of a moving car.
The Bobby Mac convertible seat is a hit with parents. The Bobby Mac car seat could be used dread-facing or forward-facing.
In 1971, the first federal standards for car seat safety require a three-point child harness as well as a safety belt to attach the car seat to the vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) introduced federal regulation, FMVSS213 but it was just a safety belt to hold the car seat into the vehicle and a harness to hold the child in the car seat. There were no requirements for crash testing.
In 1972, Consumer Reports published an article showing that most car seats that passed FMVSS 213 could not withstand crash tests.
Action for Child Transportation Safety was formed in 1971 to promote child passenger safety which promoted safety and became the precursor to child restraint seat that was effected in 1982.
1979 saw the first child restraint aka car seat law in Tennessee.
In the 1980s, crash testing for car seats is required. Car seats gradually become sturdier and more protective. All states have a law by 1985. But even in 1987, only 80% of children use a car seat.
1985: NHTSA survey finds misuse of CRS at 65%.
1990: FAA proposal requires airlines to permit the use of approved CRS during take-off and landing. NHTSA adopts a minimal test as part of FMVSS 213.
A more stringent version of FMVSS 213-80, Child Restraint Systems, becomes effective on 1/1/81; includes rear-facing infant restraints, car beds, and forward-facing restraints for children under 50 lb..; required frontal crash test at 30 mph, buckle release force (so children could not release the harness), special labeling and instruction criteria.
1997 – ISofix, a precursor to today’s LATCH (Lower, Anchors & Tethers for Children) system, is the first attempt at an anchor system for securing child car seats.
Car seat technology takes a huge leap forward. Infant car seats, 3-in-1 car seats, and travel system car seats all debut in the U.S.
In 2002, LATCH is mandated by law. Washington and California pass the first booster seat laws for children over 40 pounds.
What made the first child car seat safer?
- It had a tongue that went between the seat cushions and seat bags
- The seat belts went through the side gussets and tied the seat to the safety features of the automobile.
Car seat manufacturer and safety testing processes became regulated in 1971. What you see sold on the shelves today is a culmination of continually improved testing methods courtesy of regulatory advances.
Who invented baby car seats
Art Hoffmann Sr. is credited to have developed the first child car seat.
History of car seat belts
From 1956-1970, lap-type seat belts were developed and became standard equipment for adults. Even though crash-test results proved that seat belts saved lives, in the 1960s seat belts were met with resistance. In 1966, Congress passed the Twin Highway Acts that empowered the Department of Transportation (DOT) to set standards for vehicle design; the separate states have the authority to enforce driver laws, which vary among the states. Shoulder harnesses, self-applying belts, and front- and side-impact airbags increased the level of protection for adults; these types of safety equipment became available from 1966-1995.
During this period, child safety seats grew to include rear-facing seats for infants under 22 lb (10 kg), convertible seats that start as rear-facing infant seats and convert to face forward for toddlers weighing less than 40 lb (18.2 kgs), and booster seats that elevate a growing child weighing between 30-70 lb (13.6-31.8 kg) so the car’s seat belt can be fastened around child and booster seat. Child safety seats are in the news almost daily, yet more than 30 years after their development, many of these news items focus on the inconvenience of the seats rather than the lives they save.
History of car seat cover
The history of seat covers followed the evolution of cars themselves. As automobiles have advanced, their styles have changed considerably. Not only have the mechanics of the seat changed, but so did their shape and style. Rather than bench seats that are little more than thin foam on top of the wood, we now have sophisticated seats that are made to hug your body and offer multiple points of support.
Early cars were very basic. They had plain seats with square backs and square bottoms. There was no tapering, and there were no special mechanisms for adjusting the seats. That made them easier to cover, for sure.
The earliest car seat covers were basic pieces of fabric that had buckles on the sides. The cover folded over the seat and buckled at the bottom or the back. They didn’t offer full coverage, and they were very basic in their design. You wouldn’t have found a lot of colors, let alone any patterns or fabric choices. The first seat-cushion cover was patented in the United States in 1927 by Maurice Aaron. The first genuine seat cover was invented just five years later in 1932.
After World War II, cars finally got bucket seats, which were a bit more comfortable and a lot more stylish. The seat covers that were made for bucket seats had a heavy, cloth-like fabric that was designed to protect the seat fabric from wear and tear. The covers basically wrapped around the seat bottom and back, and they buckled in the same way as previous covers. However, they did get more choices in terms of both color and pattern. Gingham and plaid car seat covers were especially popular.
In 1969, pockets were added to automobiles, and thus, to seat covers. The covers had pockets on the seatbacks, giving rear passengers space to store things like books, flashlights, sunglasses, or maps.
History of heated car seats
When cars were first invented, riding in them could be downright chilly, especially during winter months. After all, these early-model vehicles were open bodied, so wind could whip around drivers and passengers alike as rain, snow, and/or sleet fell freely upon their heads. Glass windshields started to appear around 1907, breaking some of the wind, and motorists bundled up and put gas lamps in their cars to create some radiated heat, but still, it was cold.
Although car heaters made driving far more comfortable, a heated car seat would provide targeted heat to one particular body part, an appealing idea to many. It’s reported in many places online that General Motors (GM) tested car seat heaters as early as 1939 on select models, but no additional details or sources seem to be available. GM was a pioneer in the heated seat effort, as Robert Ballard of GM is credited with the first patent. He applied for his patent in 1951 and was issued #2,698,893 in 1955. See pictures and detailed text of his patent.
History of Car seat laws/ child safety seat laws
It took 9 years from the innovation of safety-conscious car seats to the beginning of regulations for them.
In 1971 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopts the first federal standard, FMVSS213. At the time requirements did not include crash tests but did require the use of a safety belt to hold the car seat into the vehicle and a harness to hold the child in the car seat.
It took 17 years from innovation and 8 years from preliminary regulations to the first state law.
1979 saw the first child restraint aka car seat law in Tennessee.
It took another 6 years until all the states had laws.
All states have a law by 1985. But even in 1987, only 80% of children use a car seat.
We understand innovation precedes regulation. After all, people need to invent products before anyone can make up rules about them. The government needs time to create a committee and criteria and discuss it and discuss it some more and send it to other people to discuss it before something is written, which probably has to be handed to someone else discuss and finally to someone else to approve. (That’s the way it seems anyway.)
Car seats were obviously around when I was a child, not that I recall ever being in one. I spent a good part of my childhood rolling around the back of a van in a customized bed/table area (the table lowered to make a bed area, great for camping). Of course, there was no legal requirement yet, not until I was closer to “booster age”.
Today in the history of car seats
Experts, manufacturers, and lawmakers continue to make improvements. States have routinely increased the car seat requirements as experts learn better ways of protecting children in the car. Many state car seat laws now require keeping children rear-facing until age two. Many also implemented laws to keep older children safer as well.
LATCH systems were introduced into vehicles. A new federal regulation required car manufacturers to include the complete system in all cars by the model year 2003. These are lower anchors and top tether anchor points intended to improve the ease of install and stability of the seat if the car gets into a crash.
Car seats must meet strict federal crash test regulations which also continue to evolve. Child restraints also come with expiration dates and safety recalls are taken seriously.
These days, parents do exhaustive research on car seat options. And many go the extra step of getting their car seats checked for proper installation by a Child Passenger Safety Technician —something unheard of even 25 years ago. (NHTSA, Safe Kids Worldwide and National Child Passenger Safety Board implemented the technician program in 1997.)
But even now we don’t have 100% usage.
Some crashes are unsurvivable. Recent years’ statistics show more than 57% of deaths for children 0-15 were because the child was unrestrained. If (and there’s really no question here) they are so wonderful for keeping our kids safe, why isn’t there 100% usage now and why did it take so long to even get this far? Is it because of critics? Was there some general sentiment that it’s not really needed? That it’s not really safer like all of us experts say?
Correct car seat usage is even lower as still about 75% of car seats are used incorrectly.
Our related articles on history of baby gear:
I am Ashley Davis, a mom of three kids and the editor here at Motherhood HQ (formerly 10BabyGear). I have been a parent since 2011 and have been doing full-time consulting as a baby sleep expert since 2019. When I am not researching or testing the next baby gear hitting the market, you’ll find me teaching my toddlers a trick or two – especially over the last few months with the lockdown. I hope you’ll find my guides and reviews helpful as you make your next purchase decision. If you have any questions, you can reach me at email@example.com.