From cave men to astronauts, every human on the planet needs a place to sleep. Surprisingly though, for an item that is needed by every living person on the planet, creating a comfortable place to sleep began relatively late in history. Historically, a bed was considered the most important piece of furniture in a house and the type of bed could be considered a status symbol. In some cultures the bed was not only used for sleeping, but also for eating and entertaining company. The earliest models of beds were shallow chests where bedding was placed.
It wasn’t until much later that an attempt to make a softer bed was introduced. A typical bed in the 1600’s accomplished this by using a wooden frame that had a network of ropes across it. The phrase ‘sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bit’ originates from this time frame because the ropes used to support the mattress had to be tightened regularly as they stretched, loosened and began to sag. Sleeping tight was literally referencing the tightening of the ropes before lying down. As for the bed bugs, that needs no explanation. The mattresses were a fairly plain and made of a wide variety of materials. It would lay on top of the rope framework and was basically a bag with some soft filling inside. Straw and wool were the most common fillers and they were covered by a cheap and plain fabric.
It wasn’t until the 18th century, or 1700’s that the covers for mattresses began to improve. Instead of cheap fabric, linen and cotton began to be used. Additional fillings were coconut fiber and horse hair in addition to straw and wool. Some models were stitched or buttoned to hold the fillings in, but the overall design was still fairly simple and still placed on a network of ropes. Even optimistically, these beds were an improvement, but far from the comfort now enjoyed by many. Straw can be very poky and scratchy. Horse hair and wool seem as if they would retain a decent smell, and coconut fiber is hard to come by in many regions and seems oddly similar to straw in nature. These mattresses were a great improvement from the early beds however.
In the 1900’s, wood frames were replaced by iron and steel and in 1929 rubber mattresses were produced as well as the first pocket spring mattresses where individual springs were sewn into fabric bags. Seems like an early precursor to the typical box springs mattress that is still used.
Technically, the first waterbeds were used in Persia over three thousand years ago. They were re-introduced in the late 1800’s and were intended to prevent pressure ulcers in patients. They are commonly called bed sores now. The waterbeds would effectively distribute the pressure across the entire human body and help eliminate the sores that would usually appear. Waterbeds were sold on rare occasion but they did not really infiltrate the market until the 1960’s when vinyl was produced and became a much more suitable material for the design of waterbeds. The design of waterbeds has continued to improve and there are currently softside and hardside models of waterbeds available.
The Murphy bed was a great innovation not only for saving space in apartments and hotel rooms, but also for adding humor and comedy to many media depictions and plot lines. The space saving element of a Murphy bed is a huge asset in many areas, but in addition, people often have positive associations with the design from seeing comical depictions of people being conveniently trapped in their own bed for a period of time.