History of a Bed

  • Ancient times: Prehistoric humans simply huddled in groups for warmth at night and slept on the ground.
  • 10,000 to 8,000 years ago (Neolithic period): The invention of the mattress and then the bed. It was raised off the ground to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests. Most probably, the first “mattress” was a pile of leaves or grass with animal skins over it. Straw was probably also used. Softer materials were added: grass, straw, pea shucks, rags, etc.
  • 3600 BCE: The first water-filled beds were goatskins filled with water, used in Persia.
  • 3400 BCE: Egyptian people slept on palm bows heaped in the corner of their home.
  • 200 BCE: Mattresses in the Roman Empire were bags of cloth stuffed with reeds, hay or wool. Wealthy people filled the bags with feathers. Romans discovered the waterbed. The sleeper would recline in a cradle of warm water until drowsy, then be lifted onto an adjacent cradle with a mattress, where they would be rocked to sleep.
  • 15th century: In the Renaissance, mattresses were made of pea shucks or straw, sometimes feathers, stuffed into coarse ticks, then covered with velvets, brocades, or silks.
  • 16th and 17th centuries: Mattresses were generally stuffed with straw or down, placed atop a lattice work of rope from which the expression “sleep tight” is derived. The latticework needed regular tightening.
    NOTE: This origin of the phrase “sleep tight” is disputed. Most scholars now believe that the term springs from an archaic meaning of the word “tight” — when used as an adverb, it simply means “soundly”, so “sleep tight” just means “sleep soundly”. A typical bed of 1600 was a timber frame with rope or leather supports.
  • 18th century: Mattresses were stuffed with cotton or wool.
  • Mid 18th century: Mattress covers started to be made of quality linen or cotton. The mattress cane box was shaped or bordered and the fillings available were natural and plenty, including coconut fibre, cotton, wool and horsehair. The mattresses also became tufted or buttoned to hold the fillings and cover together and the edges were stitched.
  • 1857: The steel coil spring was invented and first patented for use in a chair seat.
  • 1865: The first coil spring construction for bedding was patented. Mattresses were lumpy up to the late 1800s, when the box spring was invented. Even the box spring mattresses were lumpy, but at least the springs made it more comfortable.
  • 1871: The German Heinrich Westphal is credited for inventing the innerspring mattress. He lived in Germany and died in poverty, having never profited from his invention.
  • 1873: Sir James Paget at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital presented a waterbed designed by Neil Arnott as a treatment and prevention of pressure ulcers (bed sores). Waterbeds allowed mattress pressure to be evenly distributed over the body.
  • 1895: A few waterbeds were sold via mail order by the British store Harrod’s. They looked like large hot water bottles.
  • 1900: James Marshall invents the pocket coil mattress
  • 1906: Sealy Mattress Company formed after buying all patents and knowledge from a local gentlemen.
  • 1930s: Innerspring mattresses and upholstered foundations slowly became the most widely used form of mattresses. Artificial fillers became common. The most expensive beds of 1929 were latex rubber mattresses produced by Dunlopillow. Pocket spring mattresses were also introduced. These were individual springs sewn into linked fabric bags.
  • 1940s: Futons were introduced to North America.
  • 1950s: Foam rubber mattresses and pillows appeared on the market.
  • 1960s: Modern waterbed was introduced. Due to lack of suitable materials, the waterbed did not gain widespread use until this decade, when vinyl was invented. Also, adjustable beds become popular with consumers.
  • 1980s: Airbeds were introduced. The mattress was an inflatable unit made with vinyl.
  • 1992: Tempur-Pedic introduced their pressure-relieving “Swedish Sleep Systems” mattresses using TEMPUR branded viscoelastic memory foam.
  • 1999: For the first time ever, the queen-size mattress beat the twin-size to become the U.S. most popular choice for mattress size.
  • Currently: Most mattresses use innerspring coils.

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