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A History of the Mattress: Who Invented The Mattress?

By Richard Morse @insidebedroom

Who invented the mattress? Most people love sleeping on their mattress more than on any other surface, but who invented it? A history of the mattress shows that it was not one particular person, but that the mattress developed over time from a pile of leaves to today's comfortable surface that allows you a comfortable, restful sleep.

Table of Contents

Origin of the Word 'Mattress'

The word 'mattress' has its origins in the Arabic matrah, derived from the word taraha meaning 'to throw down'. This word led to the German matratze and the Italian materasso from which the old French word materas was derived. The English mattress likely came into use between the Norman times and the period of the Crusades - a combination of the French and Arabic term for a sleeping surface.

The original dedicated sleeping surface would likely have been piles of leaves, moss, rushes and any other material that could be used to make the surface more comfortable - and likely keep the person dry when sleeping. Early troglodytes would have no bed as such, just a safe place in their cave to sleep.

Pillows and Raised Beds

Nobody knows when a raised bed was first used, though the pharaohs of ancient Egypt are known to have slept on palms covering a raised bed. These were likely made from wood. The ancient Greeks and Romans slept on pillows stuffed with reeds and straw or even wool for those that could afford it. Feathers were also used by the aristocracy. This is likely when mattresses as sleeping surfaces were first used.

As time went by, the 'pillows' became larger. More exotic materials used to form them and fill them. Brocades and silks from China were used for the wealthy, and custom-designed raised beds were used for sleeping purposes.

If a number of pillows laid together provided a comfortable sleeping surface, why not have one large pillow, long and wide enough to accommodate a man? Nobody knows when 'double mattresses' were devised - likely when 'man' discovered the benefits of not sleeping alone!

A History of the Mattress: 19th Century Onwards

It was not until the 1800s that the mattress as we know began to appear. The steel coil spring had been invented in 1857, after steel had been first produced. They had been used to make chair seats more comfortable. It didn't take long for somebody to realize that this technology could be used to create a comfortable sleeping surface.Heinrich Westphal used the steel coil spring to invent the first innerspring mattress in 1871. However, his invention was not widely used in mattresses until the 1930s, after its inventor had died in poverty.

The Innerspring Mattress

When asking the question "Who invented the Mattress ", It could be Heinrich Westphal. He was the first to use springs to provide support. This was the beginnings of the mattress as we know it. The first genuine innerspring mattress likely covered the springs with padding made from wool, bundled cotton and even swan and goose down - the colloquial 'feather bed'.

It was nowhere near as comfortable as today's mattresses, but far more comfortable than any sleeping surface before it. Horsehair also came into popular use around that time. This was ideal for covering the springs and providing a good platform for the comfort layer. This would be composed of layers of cotton, wool or feathers to form a recognizable innerspring mattress.

The Invention of Foams: Essential for Today's Mattresses

Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, people relied on natural materials for soft padding. However, even the best natural padding had no resilience: the ability to push back when compressed. You just sank into the mattress. The springs gave a bit of bounce, but the padding eventually flattened out and became uncomfortable. There were no foams at that time

In 1926, Dunlop invented a process to make latex foam from vulcanized rubber sap. This was the first genuine foam to be used in mattresses and it is still used today. So by the 1930s, the basics of an innerspring latex foam mattress were available. Mattresses no longer flattened when you lay on them. They sprung back due to the resilience of the foam and the springs. Even very heavy people could now feel comfortable in bed.

Polyurethane and Memory Foam Development

The polyurethane polymer was first developed in 1937, although in a solid form. By the late 1950s, however, polyurethane could be manufactured as a foam and used to make comfortable mattresses - either as padding for innerspring mattresses or as a solid block of foam for sleeping on. Remember that before this you would sleep on a mattress made from wool or cotton that has no bounce at all!

Then came fast jets with high G-forces, and the first attempts at space travel. In 1966, NASA developed a new type of foam which we know today as 'memory foam'. This was to absorb the pressures exerted on pilots by G-forces.

Memory Foam Mattresses and Other Developments

Then, a company known as Tempur-Pedic used this memory foam to create a new type of mattress that offered better support for the body's pressure points. Today, innerspring, latex foam, polyurethane foam and memory foam technology are behind the vast majority of modern mattresses.

When you are looking for a mattress for your bed now - in 2020 - think of your limited options even just 50 years ago. No memory foam, no polyurethane foams and not even any of the more modern innerspring mattresses. It makes you think what mattresses may be like in 100 or even 50 years time.

Who Invented the Mattress?

So who invented the mattress? Nobody really! A dictionary definition of a mattress is: " A fabric case filled with soft, firm, or springy material, used for sleeping on." In that case, the ancient Greeks or Romans likely invented the mattress (the soft). It then developed along with technology. Comfort is a great driver of technology - that, exploration and war!

Through the centuries, mattresses have developed according to the technology of the time. The mattresses we sleep on today were invented in our time, and so it will likely continue as science and technology continues to advance.

Who knows - in 100 years time we may be lying on 'self-supporting air". Turn on the switch wherever you wish - SSA will provide you with 100% support wherever you need it. Equally supporting every joint and every bone of your entire body. Who knows! We've come a long way from some straw on the floor of a rocky cave!

Keep Reading: Is Sleeping on A Mattress on The Floor Bad For You? "

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