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History of Mattresess and Why You Can’t Live Without Them

We take some things for granted, like the air we breathe. Or the mattress we sleep on at night. It has become such a part of the bedroom essentials that we hardly give it a thought about its existence. Have you ever wonder how it came into being or how many improvements it has undergone since it made its debut more than 10,000 years ago. Yes, the mattress that make sleep possible and offers rest and comfort. Let’s take a look at the interesting history of mattresses and why they are here to stay.


Man has an intrinsic need to search for creature comfort. From as early as in the Neolithic period, people found that sleeping on the hard, cold ground was less than satisfactory. Though it’s functional, it lacks comfort. They found that creating a pile of leaves, grass, possibly straw gave a little cushion and offered some support for the back. Later, they threw animal skins over to hold the motley mound together and another animal skin to act as a blanket. Thus, the primitive mattress came into being.

By the 3,400 B.C., beds took on more sophistication. The Egyptians discovered that putting the mattress on a raised pallet off the ground made it better for comfort and support. Accordingly, Egyptian Pharaohs slept on raised pallets with ornate designs. King Tutankhamun had a bed made from ebony and gold. In those days, beds bore status symbols and only the rich had the luxury to splurge and enjoy. And then, these beds become more than beds, they became a place to eat meals and entertain guests. As for the common man, they continued to sleep on heaps of leaves piled heaped high in a corner of their house.

The Romans formulated their own mattress as well. They crafted beds with gold, silver or bronze decorations and filled the mattress (stitched skin or cloth together) with reeds, hay, wool or feathers to ensure a soft cushion for their back. Their quest for luxurious sleeping experience also led them to come up with the first idea of a waterbed. Not quite the waterbed in the market today but they should be lauded for the creative effort. Their waterbed was more like a spa experience. First the sleeper relaxed in a cradle of warm water until drowsy. Then the sleeper was lifted into an adjacent cradle with mattress, and then rocked to sleep. Needless to say, only the wealthy can afford this type of waterbed, since an attendant would be helpful in this type of sleeping experience.

The Renaissance came along and with that, the rebirth of art and sciences and creative innovations. Mattress took on intricate exteriors to reflect the richness of culture. They covered mattress made of pea shucks, straw and feathers with rich velvets,  texturally-rich brocade or smooth silk.

A typical 16th century bed consisted of a timber frame with rope or leather supports to buoy the mattress. At this point, the mattress was still stuffed with straw or wool or feathers and covered with fabric. Since these beds have supports that will sag with weight and age, and often, they had to be tightened from time to time, the age-old expression, “Sleep tight” came about.

History tells us that King Louis XIV loved his bed so much, he often held court in his royal bedroom. It was considered an honor to catch the king waking up or nodding off. His love affair with beds led him to amass a big collection of 413 beds. Not just any bed but spacious and ostentatious varieties that showed off his kingly status and his love for “dramatic artifice and splendor.” He was undoubtedly the king of high couture and that showed in his collection of beds.

Now, using organic and natural materials to stuff the mattress presented a problem. Vermin infestation. Bugs, dust mites and little critters sharing the bed may cause a little discomfort but back then, they took it in strike. After all, that was a little price to pay for creature comfort at night. The expression, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” became a common night wish. By the 18th century, as man became wiser with time, the wish became a reality. They realized that making the bed frame out of cast iron or steel and using cotton mattress would provide a more hostile environment for bug infestation. A breakthrough for the overall sanitation and hygiene of mattress use.

Much progress happened and, in 1857, the first steel coil spring was patented for use in chair seat. Later, a German by the name of Heinrich Westphal took it further by inventing the innerspring mattress in 1871. It didn’t quite catch on in the beginning and it took more than 60 years for the innerspring mattress to gain popularity. Needless to say, Heinrich never profited from his invention in his lifetime. He died poor.

By the 1930s, innerspring mattress and upholstered foundation dominated the bedding market. Mattress became more comfortable and more bug-resistant. Fillings include variations of cotton (most popular), hair and feathers. Often, manufacturers used raw cotton to fill a sewn mattress and then, they beat the layers of cotton with a stick to make it flat. To finish off, they hand or machine tuft the ticks to make sure it has a sturdy shape and form.

As mattress soared in demand, various companies vied for a place in the market. In the 50s, licensed groups such as Sealy, Simmons, Spring Air, King Coil and Restonic became familiar names in the bedding industry. The idea that bigger is better gave rise to bigger-sized mattresses and King and Queen-sized mattresses made their appearance. Together with the larger size, manufacturers also touted heavier steel coils for better back support.

Soon, foam and latex mattresses made their appearance. Their popularity didn’t quite match the innerspring mattress in the beginning. Today, there are a variety of mattresses in the market, from Posturepedic to ergonomic to memory foam. There is, indeed, a mattress for everyone.

Types of Mattresses

The National Institutes of Health points out the importance of using a good supportive mattress to encourage a good sleep. It reveals that the comfort and support of sleep surface help sleep quality and efficiency. Although some sources suggest that medium-firm mattresses are best for helping back pain, shoulder pain and spine stiffness, findings are inconclusive. A better way to pick a mattress is to take your weight and your personal preference into consideration. In addition, always talk to the bedding specialist when in doubt.

Although there are many types of mattresses in the market, the Consumer Reports mattress buying guide narrows it down to three main types to make it easier for you to determine what mattress is best for your needs:

Memory Foam
Made of mostly polyurethane, memory foam is a favorite. Some types of latex foam are hypoallergenic. The foam molds to your body when you lie down and springs back to its original shape when you get up. It remembers your weight distribution. Proponents claim that it helps back and joint pain.

This is perhaps the oldest and most traditional of mattresses. Made of steel coils in various configurations, modern innerspring mattresses come with various options: special layers of cushioning, pillowtop layer, infused gel. Unlike memory foam, you can shift positions easily but your partner may feel the shifting bounce (which may or may not be a problem).

Adjustable Air
When you see commercials on sleep number and adjustable firmness, they are referring to the adjustable air mattress. This type of mattress comes with an electric pump attached to the bed to adjust to different firmness to suit you and your partner needs.

As you follow the history of mattress, you may have gained a new respect for mattress and what it does for you on a nightly basis. Finding the right mattress can make a world of difference to your sleep and health. For more information on mattress, contact your local Urban Mattress store.