Dear Dr. Boli: Where do babies come from? —Sincerely, Sir Wilmot FitzGeoffrey Toe, Bart., Age 53.

Dear Sir: This is, of course, a delicate subject, and Dr. Boli will attempt to address your question in terms suitable for your tender age.

Before the dawn of civilization, early tribes had to manufacture their own offspring from whatever materials came to hand. Most primitive hominid skeletons found by paleontologists have been made of stone, which was both durable and readily available; the remaining parts of the body would have been made of animal hides, leaves, and other perishable materials that have not survived.

Civilization brought specialization, and the production of human offspring became the domain of a specialized class of craftsmen. So it remained for thousands of years, though the scale of the enterprise of course varied with the degree of civilization and organization. In imperial Rome, vast workshops filled with slaves assembled children for the Empire; with the fall of Rome, the business reverted to a small-scale village craft; but in either case the technology was the same, and human labor was the engine that drove production.

With the dawn of the Industrial Age, mass production of babies at last became practical, and most of the small tradesmen who had painstakingly crafted each child by hand were thrown out of work. By the middle nineteenth century, New England had become a world leader in the production of human offspring, and many a New England mill town owed its prosperity to the thriving baby industry.

The twentieth century saw the consolidation, standardization, and eventual decline of the European and North American baby industry; and today most babies are sourced from China and Indonesia, where parts and labor are cheaper, the American and European distributors supplying only a rough design and a basic set of specifications.

Dr. Boli hopes he has answered the question to your satisfaction. He is aware that at times his language has been uncharacteristically graphic; but he has always believed that concealing the facts of life from our young people, no matter how laudable the impulse to preserve their innocence may be, can only have detrimental effects in the end.