The Evolution of the Mattress

In the beginning, there was earth, man, and darkness. It’s only natural that we’d want to take advantage of that nighttime respite to catch some rest, which we came to call sleep. With time came resources, and with those resources we crafted superior vessels to the mysterious and irresistible world of sleep over time. Innovation has carried us to the remarkable variety and quality of our advanced, modern sleep technologies, unrecognizable to the pioneers crafting the earliest-known mattress out of leaves and grass in South Africa 77,000 years ago. Nearly everything has changed since then, but at least one constant unites us with our past: Sleep is essential. And we want to be as comfortable as possible when we do it. Here’s a brief glimpse at how we’ve progressed so far:

77,000 Years Ago

Discovered in a Sibudu rock shelter miles from the Indian Ocean in South Africa, a 3X6’ mattress consisted of compacted layers made of leaves and grass less than an inch thick.

Neolithic Period

Consisting of leaves, straw, grass and covered in animal skins, these early beds were raised off the ground to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests.

3,600 Years Ago

Goatskins filled with water in Persia were the world’s first “waterbeds.”

Egyptians slept on palm bows in the corners of their home. 

8th Century B.C.E.

Homer’s Odyssey refers to a charpoy of woven rope, a popular bedding frame of the era.

200 B.C.E.

Ancient Romans stuffed cloth bags with reeds, hay and wool to sleep on. The rich enjoyed feather stuffing, with beds often decorated in gold, silver, or bronze.

Medieval Europe

Ancient Germans would often sleep in shallow chests filled with the usual stuffing—feathers, wool, and hair—often in the nude.

In the 12th Century, luxury bedframes were crafted from wood, carved, painted, and decorated.

In 13th Century France, pillows and cushions were added to the top of the bed to give the bed and sleeper a slope.

15th – 17th Centuries

The Renaissance period saw mattresses made of straw and pea shucks, covered in velvets and silks.

Louis XIV loved his bed so much he would often hold court from his royal bedroom. He allegedly owned up to 413 different beds, with an eye for variety and space.

18th Century

Mattresses covers began to incorporate cotton and quality linens, and the beds were filled with coconut fibre, cotton, wool, and horsehair. They also started buttoning the stuffing to the cover, with stitched edges. 


The first coil spring construction for bedding is patented.


The first innerspring mattress is introduced. Its inventor, Heinrich Westphal, never profited from it and sadly died in poverty.


Sir James Paget presents a waterbed designed by Neil Arnott to St. Batholomew’s Hospital to treat and help prevent pressure ulcers. It won’t grow to prominence for another century, however.

Late 19th century

The box spring is invented.

Iron and steel replaces past timber frames.


James Marshall introduces individually wrapped pocketed spring coils now commonly known as Marshall coils.


The Murphy Bed, invented by William Lawrence Murphy, saves space by folding into a wall closet.


Expensive latex rubber mattress are introduced.


Thanks to the popularity of innerspring mattresses, pocket spring mattresses are introduced, individually wrapping springs in fabric.


The first futons are sold in the U.S.


Foam mattresses and pillows become available.


The modern waterbed experiences a short-lived reign of popularity with the invention of vinyl. The first adjustable beds also gain popularity.


Vinyl air mattresses are introduced.


The queen-size mattress surpasses the twin for the title of America’s most popular mattress.


Choice and varying degrees of comfort run the bedding world. Innerspring, memory foam, pillow top, and hybrid options give consumers endless options.

We’ve come a long way from sleeping on the ground, and who knows where technology will lead us next. Certainly to even better sleep! If you’re ready to upgrade to the best bedding our generation has to offer, find a conveniently located Sleep Outfitters near you and explore our mattress catalog! Funny how one small bed for man led to one giant sleep for mankind.

Further Reading:

The World’s Oldest Mattress – Smithsonian Magazine

History of the Mattress - The Better Sleep Council

History of Beds – Thought Co.

History of the Bed – Mattress Mart

Bed – Wikipedia

Mattress - Wikipedia



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