One of the many things we share with our ancestors is our need for deep, restorative sleep. Humans have always strived to create the most comfortable environment for sleeping, which includes having a supportive surface to rest on. The history and evolution of the mattress as we know it today is fascinating – from the first designs known to us that included palm leaves and layers of plants to today’s zero-gravity, optimal temperature innovative designs, it’s safe to conclude that mattresses have come a long way.
In today’s article, we will trace the evolution of the mattress, starting from 77,000 years ago to today. We will elaborate on the intricate mattress designs of each era and give you a general idea of what mattresses looked like during those periods. We will conclude the article by exploring some of the changes we have yet to see in terms of mattress development, such as having a personalized mattress experience that enables us to sleep in optimal temperatures.
Without further ado, let’s start by examining the first mattress we know of.
The Earliest Appearance of the Mattress
You might be surprised to know that the first example of a mattress can be found as far back as 77,000 years ago. The form of this mattress resembles the one we know and love today and was first found in a region in South Africa. As talented and diligent as our ancestors were, the mattress wouldn’t impress a modern sleeper. You won’t be surprised to hear that the initial design was constructed using different kinds of plants, mainly reeds, layered on top of each other. Some other materials were also used, such as feathers.
During the Neolithic period, the same tradition continued. Mattresses were made mainly by creating layers of leaves and animal skins on the ground. It wasn’t until the talented craftsmanship of ancient Egyptians came about that the mattress got a more sophisticated design and feel. At around 3,000 B.C., they constructed something resembling a modern bed – they put layers of pallets on the ground, mainly for the Pharaohs to sleep on. Some beds were even decorated with expensive jewellery on them. This design had a practical purpose – they believed that by raising the place they sleep on, they would protect themselves from snakes and other predators. The mattresses had more practical materials, such as wool and stone, while those who couldn’t afford these designs still slept on palm leaves on the ground.
The Evolution of the Mattress in the Classical Period
After the Egyptians came the Romans, who took this design a step further. They also made constructions similar to the beds we know today, mainly using wood and metals. Unlike the ancient Egyptians, even commoners could afford a mattress, but there was a difference in the materials used. Cheaper mattresses that were affordable for everyone contained primarily weeds, plants, and even hay, whereas mattresses designed for the nobles were made of wool and feathers, and their beds were often decorated with pure gold and silver. Surprisingly, they are even attributed to creating the first water bed, even though its design wasn’t exactly what we would consider a water bed today. They didn’t create mattresses that contained water but rather filled different animal skins with water.
Similarly to the Romans, the Greeks are also accredited with revolutionizing the concept of mattresses and bedding. They included headboards in their bed design and even created beds that had the ability to recline, which can be considered the predecessors of today’s adjustable beds.
There is a slight discrepancy in the history of the mattress in the west and in the east. In the west, ornate, luxury beds were a sign of aristocracy and many used their bedroom décor to flex their wealth. In the east, however, people slept on the ground for quite some time and it wasn’t a sign of the sleeper’s wealth. On the contrary – they believed that sleeping on the ground had some health benefits and it was often a more practical solution, such as keeping cold during the summer. In fact, many of their activities were performed on the ground, including eating.
The Evolution of the Mattress During the Renaissance
Following the Classical Period, the design of the mattress continued to evolve. During the Renaissance Era, people continued to experiment with the layout and the materials used. The use of softer materials that felt better on the body was becoming more and more common, so feathers became all the rage. When it comes to the design of the beds, it remained relatively straightforward for the common folk – beds were usually made out of wood, while some had carvings and inlay engraved in them. With that said, the design of the beds for the aristocracy was increasingly more ornate.
This period witnessed the creation of the first four poster bed. Most of the beds were incredibly large and some featured curtains that were included both for privacy and decorative purposes. Expensive, opulent materials like silk were becoming more and more used in bedding. We can trace the evolution of beds and mattresses in some of the paintings from that period, mainly those created for the royals. One thing is for certain – they are quite an improvement from the beds and mattresses in the classical period. This hardly comes as a surprise to the modern reader, since we know that many kings used their décor as a status symbol and even invited guests to their bedroom to show their wealth off.
The Evolution of the Mattress During the Industrial Revolution
Unsurprisingly, the design of the mattress continued to evolve during the Industrial Revolution. Not only was the design of the bed made more practical by creating iron beds which were significantly sturdier than the previous designs, but mattresses became even more comfortable and soft with the introduction of cotton as a material used in their making.
Another incredibly practical solution that was introduced at this time was the raising of the mattress on the bed by a few centimetres. Doing so prevented vermin and different kinds of bed bugs from reaching the bed and chewing away at the bed and mattress, making them significantly more durable.
The Creation of Coil Mattresses
Innerspring mattresses are among the most popular types of mattresses nowadays, but did you know that they originated in the 1870s?
The creation of the first coil mattress is attributed to Heinrich Westphal. He used metal coils that made the mattress bouncier and more supportive. This popular construction started to become an indispensable part of mattresses due to the balanced support and breathability that it provided. However, it might surprise you to know that innerspring mattresses weren’t that popular at first – their sales didn’t set off until the 1930s.
Another important invention that sprang from this period is the creation of the water bed. Unlike the water beds that were popular during the classical period, the first water bed as we know it today was created in 1895 and it was first sold by the British firm Harrods.
The Evolution of Memory Foam Mattresses
Unlike coil mattresses, memory foam mattresses were first introduced in the 20th century. The motivation behind this invention might surprise you. Namely, Charles Yost, a successful engineer, worked closely with NASA to design a mattress that would cater to the needs of astronauts in space and provide sufficient support even when the physical environment might not be ideal. He was first contracted to create the cushions in spaceships that would be comfortable enough during takeoff, but he later extended the use of memory foam in the creation of memory foam mattresses.
The memory foam used at that time wasn’t as durable and comfortable as the one we know today. Despite that, NASA sold the formula to mattress companies who wanted to utilize it in their own designs. The company that perfected the memory foam and who is responsible for the material we know and love today was called Tempurpedic. They created a sturdier and more long-lasting version that was able to provide optimal support. Eventually, other mattress companies caught up with the trend and started producing memory foam mattresses en masse.
Memory foam mattresses weren’t only used in the confines of sleeper’s homes, but they were heavily used in hospitals, where patients required additional back support and pressure relief.
The Introduction of Gel Mattresses
Gel mattresses are incredibly popular today due to their breathability and cooling properties. Gel wasn’t introduced to mattresses until 2006, when Peterson Chemical Technology included gel particles to the foam mattress. Not only did this improve the design in terms of comfort, but it also helped provide temperature regulation, so it was aimed at hot sleepers who had trouble remaining comfortable during the long summer months. The design of the gel mattress is a precursor to all the cooling memory foam mattresses that are available for us today.
Memory Foam Today
As you can imagine, the memory foam used today is quite different from the one introduced by Yost.
Memory foam mattresses are the most common type of mattresses and new layers and designs are introduced every year. Memory foam as we know it today comes with a myriad of benefits, such as being cooling, providing pressure relief and back support, and conforming to the shape of the body, so it’s no surprise that it’s so popular among sleepers.
Since it’s so comfortable as a material, the use of memory foam extends to many other aspects apart from bedding. It’s used in diverse industries such as the automobile industry, where it’s added to the cushions to prevent serious injuries. In medicine, it’s used to create cushions for wheelchairs that will provide comfort and long-lasting support.
Another interesting aspect to note regarding the use of memory foam is that it was quite expensive to purchase when it first came out, as revolutionary products tend to be. Over time, its price dropped, so nowadays, it’s commonly used even in more affordable mattresses and bedding like pillows and blankets.
The Evolution of Latex Mattresses
Latex mattresses are another popular choice among buyers, mainly for their affordability and breathability. Latex is obtained from the sap of the rubber tree and it undergoes various processes before it becomes mattress material.
Latex foam was first used in the 1920s by a scientist named E. A. Murphy, however, the first latex mattresses didn’t resemble their current construction. It took a couple of years and experimenting with different designs for scientists to create a formula for latex foam that they were satisfied with.
While latex was popular at first, the sales took a hit during the Second World War, since most of the latex plantations were seized and latex production stopped. After the war, it became a staple in many households until the creation of memory foam.
The Evolution of Air Mattresses
While air mattresses aren’t the first thing that comes to our minds when we think about the history and evolution of mattresses, their creation has a significant place in the world of mattresses.
The first air mattress was created in 1899 in Massachusetts. Unlike some other types of mattresses, the first air mattress closely resembled the air mattress we know and love today – it was equally easy to carry around, it came in handy when moving, and it provided a nice, comfortable base for guests to sleep on.
The aspect of air mattresses that has witnessed the biggest change is the pump used. Nowadays, the pumps included help us blow up the mattress in a matter of minutes, which is a significant improvement from its early days.
Most air mattresses today are created using PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Since this isn’t the most environmentally-friendly material, many companies have started to implement new, eco-friendly materials in their design.
The Future of Mattresses
We discussed the history and evolution of the most popular types of mattresses, but what about the designs that await for us in the future?
While we can’t predict exactly what mattress companies will come out with, one thing is for certain – the mattress of the future utilizes technology to bring us an even more comfortable and supportive experience. Since some of us spend so much time sitting down, we can expect a greater emphasis on spinal alignment in future designs, one that will help us maintain a healthy posture in the long run.
Most mattresses nowadays have a multi-layer construction, so we can safely say that this trend will continue in the years to come. Undoubtedly more layers will be added, maybe even using some materials that haven’t been introduced to the mattress industry previously.
Additionally, now we’re more conscious of the impact of our actions on the environment than ever before, so mattress companies will likely continue to create non-toxic designs that won’t cause any danger to us or the environment. These designs will probably be hypoallergenic, which is great news for those who suffer from allergies.
Improvements will also be made in the breathability of the mattresses. Many people struggle with overheating and night sweats, so the new breathable design will make amazing temperature regulation easier than ever. Maybe even companies will take this a step further and create a personalized experience for every sleeper, with a mattress that gathers data regarding our temperature and helps adjust it depending on our needs.
One thing is for certain – we’re beyond excited to see what’s to come.
How Was the Mattress Invented?
The first example of a mattress we know of is from 77,000 years ago, in a region in South Africa. As you can imagine, this mattress doesn’t quite resemble the mattresses we know of today – it was created using various layers of plants.
What Were Original Mattresses Made Of?
The first mattress was made by using different kinds of plants stacked on top of each other. During the classical period, some changes were made such as the introduction of hay and wool.
What Were Medieval Mattresses Made Of?
If you have an interest in the medieval period, you might wonder what the first mattresses were made of. The tradition of using certain plants continued, however, most mattresses also contained straw and similar materials that added more comfort.
We hope you liked our overview of the history and evolution of the mattress!
The mattress as we know it today has come a long way since it was first created using layers of plants. During the Neolithic period, our ancestors started incorporating various kinds of animal skins which had the added benefit of keeping them warm. Despite the limited resources, during the ancient times some fascinating discoveries were made – ancient Egyptians created the first raised bed that was made by layering wooden pallets on top of each other, which helped protect them from snakes and other predators.
Next came the classical period, where Romans introduced wool and feathers in the design of mattresses made for the nobles. The Greeks weren’t too far behind – they are attributed for creating the first reclined bed and introducing the first headboard. During the Renaissance, people started utilizing more expensive materials such as silk. Owning a large, opulent bed was seen as a status symbol, so this period witnessed an improvement in the design of the beds in addition to mattresses.
We can’t predict where mattress designs will go from here, but we’re definitely excited to find out.