Bringing Up Baby

UPDATED 05/22/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/22/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

It's one of life's great mysteries: How did parents of toddlers eat dinner in peace before videos? Julie Aigner-Clark, 33, founder of the Baby Einstein Company, can't answer that—but she has helped moms and dads feel less guilty about their VCR habit. Started in 1997, Baby Einstein makes videos (and now CDs, books and DVDs) designed to stimulate infants and toddlers by "exposing them to great forms of human expression," Aigner-Clark says. Translation: The line—including Babies Einstein, Mozart, Bach and Shakespeare—mixes music, kid-friendly images and poems in seven languages. There's no question that parents like the concept. Based in the Littleton, Colo., home Aigner-Clark shares with husband Bill Clark, 49, Einstein's chief financial officer, and their daughters Aspen, 5, and Sierra, 3, the company rang up $4.5 million in 1999.

The daughter of a Grosse Pointe, Mich., electrician and his wife, a secretary, the former English teacher dreamed up Baby Einstein when she was pregnant with Aspen and wanted to "make [the arts] accessible to my baby." With $18,000 in savings, she and Bill, an entrepreneur, shot the 30-minute Einstein tape in their basement in 1996. A major children's catalog agreed to carry it, Parenting magazine named it one of 1997's best videos, and Baby has been booming since—even though some experts say that infants should be stimulated by parents, not a TV screen. Counters Aigner-Clark: "We tell parents to talk to their baby about the tape, not to use it as a babysitter." There goes dinner.

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