A cradle is a baby's bed, mounted on rockers or suspended from pivots, that is meant to induce sleep through its gentle rocking motion. (The various kinds of framework used by Indians in North and South America to transport their babies are called "cradleboards.") To protect the child from drafts, cradles often were higher at the head or had a hood covering that end. Cradles were usually made of wood, but they have also been made from woven reeds, wicker, wire, iron, and even papier-mache.
The cradle is an ancient form of furniture, but its exact origin is not known. It may have evolved from a basket or a lidless box that at first was placed on detachable rockers. Lengthwise as well as crosswise rockers have been used. Cradles were mentioned and also pictured in medieval manuscripts, and actual examples survive from the late 14th century.
The style of the cradle changed along with the style of other furniture in various countries. For example, cradles in 18th century noble households were elaborately draped in the same manner as the huge state beds of adults. Many of the great furniture designers of 18th century France and England included drawings of cradles in their design books. Among the most unusual cradles ever produced were the papier-mache examples, slung on frames, made in England in the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, cradles were replaced by bassinets or cribs.
By analogy, the term "cradle" is applied to other devices that have a rocking motion, such as the implement used to harvest grain.
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