Historical Evolution of Mattresses

rana on the new leesa which has a top layer of lsa200

Where Do Mattresses Come From?

Here I am prepping for season 7 of Game of Thrones, by reading the books rather than re-watching the series. I know I’m going to run out of time before the season starts, but I just couldn’t watch the dire wolves die again. Although reading about it still brings back the same memories. Anyway, in the beginning part of the first book Lady Stark is at an inn in King’s Landing. Here is the excerpt that got me thinking. “The bedding was stuffed with straw instead of feathers, but she had no trouble falling asleep.”So where did mattresses start? Surely the cave man figured out that his cave floor wasn’t all that great on his back. My curiosity drove me to do some reading up on the subject, which means that my GOT prep is going to get seriously derailed. Fortunately, HBO doesn’t release their entire seasons at once, like Netflix does. So I may not be completely refreshed by the time the first episode of Season 7 comes on, but I’ll still have time each week to make more progress through the books.

History of the Mattress

I sometimes shoot mattress reviews in French and on a rare occasion you can catch me shooting one in Arabic.  Which coincidentally, is where the word mattress is believed to have originated.  During the Crusades when the European powers pushed into the middle east they made a slight change to the word matrah (I don’t have an Arabic keyboard so I’m not going to put it in Arabic).  According to Wikipedia, Matrah loosely translates to a cushion that you throw down. Maybe that was how the word was used in the past, but now Matrah commonly means a place, or somewhere.  So you would say let’s go Matrah, then your friends would jump in your car and you would go some place.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that mattresses originated in the middle east, but it’s where the English name comes from. In French the word Mattress means “Matelas”, which is closer to Matrah. Maybe now we’re getting somewhere? That too could have been a word brought back after or during the crusades.

Oldest Known Mattresses

According to National Geographic the oldest discovered mattresses are approximately 77,000 years old. Good luck collecting that warranty though as that salesman is long gone!  These were found in South Africa, but that doesn’t mean that they invented them does it?I find it hard to believe that someone from our evolutionary tree discovered fire before figuring out that sleeping on a bed made of straw, hair, or feathers was comfortable.  So that would mean that the first mattresses appeared at least 1,000,000 years ago.  Yes that’s a bit before the bible so if you don’t believe in evolution, it’s probably time to click on another page. But our ancestors likely discovered fire much later than they discovered tools right?  If so that would put bedding/nesting at roughly 2-3 Million years ago.  So, if we go back and think about those early ancestors who just discovered how to use tools, do we believe that they would have been smart enough to gather some straw, leaves, hair, or feathers and throw them into some kind of a bag or box? There is a way that we could test out that theory, and that’s by studying other species who have also discovered the use of tools.  I’m going to focus on two such non-humans, the sea otter and the chimpanzee.  The sea otter uses blunt objects to open the shells of their food, not exactly rocket science, but it’s a start.  The chimpanzee uses a variety of tools, blunt and sharp objects for hunting and precision tools to collect food (think using a stick to collect bugs from within logs or underground).  Now there is some debate as to where the chimp learned how to use tools/if they were influenced by humans, but that’s really for another time.  Lets focus on their sleeping habits.

Sleep habits of a Sea Otter

These cute little guys are known to hold hands with each other to keep them from drifting away, how awesome right? Well, what’s cool is that they will tangle themselves in seaweed to also control the drifting issue.  So these little guys are smart enough to know that when they sleep they should go out of their way to do something about their surroundings to keep them safe.  But, do they know that being safe may at the same time be more comfortable?  I’m willing to bet that they do.  Think about the furry creatures you have sitting around your house, do you see them on the couch/bed more often than on the floor?

Sleep habits of Chimpanzees

Here it gets interesting, Chimps are known to choose/make beds in trees on a daily basis.  They could have evolved this behavior so that they could escape from other predators, or maybe they do it for comfort.  What’s fascinating is that they weave leaves in patterns to form nests, it’s likely a learned behavior that is passed down through the generations. Chimps and Sea Otters make beds but don’t light fires If they start making fires though it will be time to ditch my GOT preparation and brush up on the planet of the Apes series instead… So it’s reasonable to conclude that our humanoid ancestors Homo Habilis and possibly Australopithecus were smart enough to stuff or weave soft things into a form of bedding.  So I feel good with the assumption that rudimentary mattresses were used by our ancestors roughly 2-3 million years ago.

What kinds of Mattresses did people sleep on during the Medieval era?

GOT takes place in a world where swords and horses ruled the military landscape, so that probably translates to the late part of the Medieval era.  That’s what got me started on this so it seems logical that I go back to it. For this I’m thinking I need to know what a commoner would sleep on and what a noble person would be on.

A Noble Person’s Mattress from the Medieval Era

We know from the GOT book that Catelyn Stark is accustomed to feathers, but lets see what the kings and queens in Europe slept on. Henry VIII was believed to have slept on a straw mattress that was changed out every day.  His mattress salesman must have loved the steady stream of sales from the king.  The elite could afford to upgrade from straw, to wool or other animal hair, cotton, and feathers.

Commoner’s Bed in the Medieval Era

Imagine a stone slab with a thin mattress of hay, or peat moss.  It must have made the bed bugs comfortable, at least.  I would think that it would have been common place to change out your mattress at least once a year unless they really enjoyed the bugs that they would steadily accumulate.  Today’s mattress industry would love to have a replacement cycle of one year, it would mean an increase in sales by close to 10 times.  Of course, if you knew that a mattress wasn’t a 10 year investment but a yearly one many customers would opt for cheaper quality mattresses.

How about the 20th Century Mattresses?

Cotton mattresses dominated the early part of the 20th century.  However, cotton doesn’t do well in humid areas so finding a replacement was a natural evolution.  The innerspring mattress was invented in the late 1800’s but didn’t really catch on until the 1940s. Polyurethane foam and latex foam came into the market in the 1950s-60s.

Enter the Waterbed

The 70s brought us many great things and the rollout of the waterbed was one of those things.  Now was it great or a complete disaster?  Insurance companies had to figure out a way to stop their losses from claims resulting in waterbed related damages, due to either slow leaks or complete ruptures.  Imagine living on the third floor of an apartment, could your water damage both the first and second floors?  If you have a waterbed it may be time to pull out your insurance policy to see if they have special riders or rules around covering that potential loss. The waterbed was revolutionary for it’s time.  The water was displaced by your weight and pushed up equally on all parts of your body.  It’s always fun to roll around on one, but the motion transfer would certainly drive your partner crazy.  If you are a toss and turner, it’s likely your partner would have difficulty sleeping next to you.

21st Century Mattresses

Today competition in the market place is fierce with many choices for the consumer.  I believe that the direct to consumer model that Amazon paved the way for is great for both the manufacturers and for consumers.  Without having to open brick and Mortar stores mattress companies entered the scene at a lower price-point.  By cutting the middlemen (mattress salesmen) and the additional costs of a storefront the savings to the consumer are huge.  In turn it forces the ones with storefront presence to get more efficient to compete on price.  Surely, this competition cut into the margins of the big retailers and forced consolidation.  It seems like Mattress Firm is in every mini mall throughout the USA.

One Response

  1. My theory is that George RR Martin is folling us and he is just gonna make a queen not a king = women empowerment!
    What a rip off

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