How Your Comfortable Bed Came to Be

Two little kids playing on a bare mattress in a bright room

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A bed is a piece of furniture upon which a person may recline or sleep, in many cultures and for for many centuries the bed was considered the most important piece of furniture in the house and a type of status symbol. Beds were used in ancient Egypt as more than a place for sleeping, beds were used as a place to eat meals and entertain socially.

The Mattress

Among the earliest beds were simple, shallow boxes or chests in stuffed or layered with soft bedding. Later, ropes or strips of leather were suspended across a wooden framework to create a soft basis to sleep on. By the 15th century, most beds were built upon these straps of support over timber. The mattress itself evolved to be a sort of bag filled fiber like straw or wool, and then covered in common, inexpensive cloth.

In the mid 18th century, the cover became 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.

Iron and steel replaced the past timber frames in the late 19th century. The most expensive beds of 1929 were latex rubber mattresses produced by the very successful "Dunlopillo." Pocket spring mattresses were also introduced. These were individual springs sewn into linked fabric bags.

Waterbeds

The first water-filled beds were goatskins filled with water, used in Persia more than 3,600 years ago. In 1873, Sir James Paget at St. Bartholomew's Hospital presented a modern 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. By 1895, a few waterbeds were sold via mail order by the British store, Harrods. They looked like, and probably were, very large hot water bottles. Due to lack of suitable materials, the waterbed did not gain widespread use until the 1960s, after the invention of vinyl.

Murphy Bed

Murphy Bed, the bedding idea of 1900 was invented by American William Lawrence Murphy (1876 to 1959) from San Francisco. The space-saving Murphy Bed folds into a wall closet. William Lawrence Murphy formed the Murphy Bed Company of New York, the second oldest oldest furniture manufacturer in the United States. Murphy patented his "In-A-Dor" bed in 1908, however, he did not trademark the name "Murphy Bed."