What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an Infant.”
Thomas You, a “WORKING GOLD-SMITH, SILVER-SMITH, JEWELLER and ENGRAVER,” made and sold a variety of items that men in his occupation commonly listed in their newspaper advertisements, including shoe buckles, punch bowls, coffeepots, teapots, and silverware. He also offered a device rarely mentioned by other smiths: “sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an infant.” You did not offer explanations or justifications of any of his other merchandise, which suggests that he felt the “sucking Nipples” merited additional promotion. After all, most colonists considered breastfeeding the best and most effective means of nourishing infants.
Indeed, You’s advertisement for “sucking Nipples” put him in competition with women who offered their services as wet nurses. Very few employment advertisements concerning women appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, either by women seeking jobs or by employers interested in hiring women. When employment advertisements involving women were inserted in newspapers, they most often fell in two categories: domestic servants and wet nurses. One such advertisement appeared on the previous page of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: “A Woman, with a good young Breast of Milk, who has lately lost her Child, would be willing to take one to suckle. Her character will bear the strictest examination. Apply to the Printer.”
You’s “sucking Nipples” provided conveniences that hiring a wet nurse did not, especially eliminating exposing infants to women from outside the household. That the woman who advertised her services as a wet nurse found it necessary to state that “Her character will bear the strictest examination” demonstrates that she understood the concern potential employers might have when it came to putting their infants in such close contact with strangers. In England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Fred Weinberg notes, “[m]any people believed that a wet nurse might transmit ‘her evil passions and vicious inclinations’ to the infant through her milk.” Even if such fears had faded in the English colonies by the 1760s, “sucking Nipples” still had several advantages over wet nurses. They were likely less expensive, available upon immediate demand once purchased, and did not introduce an outsider into the household.
By underscoring that “sucking Nipples” had been “the Means of raising many an Infant” You simultaneously sought to expand the market for a product he sold while competing with one of the few occupations for women that regularly appeared in newspaper advertisements.
 Fred Weinberg, “Infant Feeding through the Ages,” Canadian Family Physician 39 (September 1993): 2016.