Each night, when you lie down in bed, it might be noteworthy to recall how lucky you are to have a soft mattress to sleep on. (And, while gratitude is an important part of any nightly ritual of self-care, this blog isn’t dedicated to the practice of gratitude.) Today, instead, we’ll uncover the evolution of your mattress itself.
In fact, it wasn’t until recent times that a comfortable sleep foundation was widely available to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Even more recently than one hundred and fifty years ago, mattresses were considered a luxury product reserved only for the elite. Keep reading to see how mattresses have evolved over the course of history.
In 2011, National Geographic first announced the discovery of the world’s oldest recorded mattress. Researchers uncovered fossils at the Sibudu Cave site in KwaZulu-Natal that proved the existence of bedding dating back more than 77,000 years ago. Before this recent discovery, scientists had only come across evidence of similar plant-based mattresses in more recent times–50,000 years more recently, to be exact!
The mattresses that these early people had crafted were shown to have insect repellant properties. In fact, they utilized leaves from the river wild-quince tree, a medicinal plant that emits insect-killing chemicals. Additionally, like the Stone Age peoples, these hunter-gatherers slept in a communal manner sharing their up to 22 square foot beds with their entire families!
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, humans who lived in this period were undergoing some quite radical changes. During this period, modern humans began spreading to Asia and recording information on objects…but most, interestingly–about 74,000 years ago–modern humans became nearly extinct as a result of extreme climate changes. Experts believe that the entire population may have been reduced to only 10,000 adults of reproductive age!
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After the near-extinction of the human race, the evolution of the bed gained momentum. Keeping sleepers out of reach of crawling insects and other unsavory critters, the ancient Egyptians invented the first raised bed. They used a mattress made of wool, as well as an increasing number of household wares including rugs, carpets, and garments. Greatly influenced by the influx of Greek people into Egypt during the time of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, the use of wool illustrated how Greek influence affected the style of the times.
In Ancient Rome, the advent of a stuffed mattress came into vogue. Using feathers or straw as filling, wool became a material predominantly seen in bedding and blankets as opposed to the mattress itself. Throughout the subsequent centuries, the bed became a status symbol; ornately carved designs, sky-high bed frames, and opulent fabrics demonstrated your place in high society.
It wasn’t until 1883 that JP Leggett first invented the steel coil mattress, acquiring a patent for the bed-spring and setting up his first factory in Carthage, Missouri.
After accepting a patent for a handmade, woven-wire bed-spring from a debtor, Zalmon G. Simmons made the mattress affordable to the mass market. In 1884, his company was incorporated as the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company before becoming the Simmons Manufacturing Company in 1889. While he wasn’t the inventor of bed springs, this lowering of price allowed people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to afford mattresses for what may have been the first time in history.
Does sleep feel like a luxury in your life?