The Evolution of the Mattress
By Frank Hopenell
The mattress is such a common thing in American homes that most people take it for granted. However, it's worth remembering that mattresses as people know them today are a modern invention. As people got more efficient and were able to have enough to eat without spending all day gathering and hunting, they had time to create. Those creations included comfortable resting areas that we know today as mattresses.
The earliest-known evidence of mattresses comes from South Africa. Archaeologists dated an early mattress, which was made from leaves and grass, to 77,000 years ago. Most animals, including people, want to be as comfortable as possible when they go to sleep. Here's a brief history of the evolution of the mattress. Take a look at how humans went from a pile of leaves and grass 77,000 years ago to the high-tech foams, innersprings and gels of today's mattresses.
More than 77,000 years ago, someone in a Sibudu rock shelter crafted a three-foot by six-foot mattress. It was made of compacted layers, and it was less than one inch thick. The mattress was found well-preserved in South Africa and was not far from the Indian Ocean.
The early beds of 20,000 to 10,000 BCE. were made of straw, grass and leaves. They were also topped with animal skins. People raised these rudimentary beds above the ground in order to avoid pests, dirt and drafts.
In Persia, humans crafted the first waterbeds. They were made from goatskins that were filled with water and stitched closed. The water absorbed body heat, which helped keep people warm while they slept at night in the frigid desert. Around the same time, Egyptians were making beds from palm bows. They placed these beds in the corners of their homes.
800 to 700 BCE
In the Odyssey by Homer, the author went into great detail about the beds that were in use during that time period. The most common type in that region of the world was a charpoy. This type of bed was a mat that was made out of woven rope.
The ancient Romans filled cloth bags with wool, hay or reeds. If a person was wealthy, they slept on a cloth bag filled with feathers from ducks or geese. Fancy beds had frames that were decorated with gold, silver or bronze painting and finials.
In the middle ages, Germans would sleep in a shallow chest or drawer. They filled it with feathers, wool or hair. Surprisingly, they usually slept in their birthday suits. In the 12th century, bed frames became more common. Those who could afford to commission a carpenter would have one hand-crafted from wood. The ornate bed frames were carved, painted and decorated with intricate designs. By the 13th century, the French commonly used pillows and would place them at the heads of their beds in order to give the person a slope. They found that these pillows provided neck support and reduced shoulder and neck strain.
During the 15th through 17th centuries, people typically used mattresses made of a straw or pea shuck core. This core was covered with velvet or silk fabric. After the spring and summer harvests, they would replace their mattress cores. It has been said that Louis XIV often held court from his bed. He supposedly owned more than 400 beds.
In the 1700s, mattress covers were beginning to be used. They were woven from cotton or linen. Mattresses were now being filled with coconut fiber, wool, horsehair, cotton or clothing scraps. People also started to button the stuffing to the cover and stitch it closed.
In 1865, the first coil spring mattress was patented. A few years later, in 1871, the first innerspring mattress was invented. A new type of water bed was designed by Neil Arnott in 1873. It was used in hospitals for ulcer prevention. In the 1890s, the box spring was invented, and iron and steel began replacing wood frames.
In 1900, the Murphy bed was invented. Fancy latex rubber mattresses were offered to the public in 1929. In the 1930s, individual pocket spring mattresses were beginning to become available. Foam mattresses and pillows became more common in the 1950s. Modern waterbeds and adjustable beds entered the marketplace in the 1960s. Air mattresses, made of vinyl, were introduced in the 1980s. And by 1999, the queen-size mattress was the most common size in the USA.
Coming into the 21st century, Innerspring, memory foam, pillow top and hybrid mattresses were now being launched in the 2000s. Cooling beds and ones that are multi-adjustable were patented in the 2010s. And now there are many other types of beds such as loft, futon, wrought iron, sleigh, and more.
Compared to sleeping on the ground or in a sack filled with hay, today's mattresses offer unparalleled comfort and convenience. Companies to have developed multiple types of memory foam mattresses with cooling foam to help you get a better night sleep. The mattresses we see today have definitely come a long way since the first mattress was created in South Africa. And now, we have so many options when it comes to selecting one.