Who Invented the Mattress?

A good night’s sleep has been an essential part of daily life throughout history, but who invented the mattress?

From the neolithic period to ancient Egypt, from the European Renaissance period to the 20th century and beyond, inventors have worked to develop mattresses to provide a restful spot for recharging. Starting with goatskins and other animal skins as mattresses, humans in the BCE times wanted what we all do: a comfortable place to sleep. 

Here Best Mattress looks at great moments in the history of mattresses and their inventors. If it leads you to a comfortable new mattress, consider it a bedtime story! 

If you’re looking for a new mattress or trying to decide which type of mattress is best for you, our guides and reviews can help.  

Ancient Egypt 

Cultural advancements led Egyptians to fashion raised beds out of reeds and palm leaves as well as wood and stone. No longer satisfied with sleeping on animal skins or on the cold, hard ground, which can cause bedsores, the Egyptians created the predecessor to the bed frames we know today.   

Around this same period, some ancient Romans were also sleeping on raised beds. Wealthier citizens had raised metal top-quality bed frames. The less affluent had bed frames made from wood, while the poorest of Roman society had to settle for a mat on the ground. 

Similarly, in ancient Persia, we also have evidence of raised beds. Wealthier Persians decorated their headboards with mother-of-pearl inlays and other artisan touches. 

Ancient societies valued rest and worked to create sleeping surfaces that would give them the sleep they needed. Still, their beds weren’t nearly as comfortable as the ones we enjoy sleeping in each night.  

Renaissance 

By the 15th century, well-to-do Europeans during the height of the Renaissance had emerged from the dark ages to large four-poster bed frames with elaborate carvings and heavy curtains that could be drawn for privacy or to block out the morning sun. 

Around this time, the beds were so large and elaborate that more upper-class homes included bedrooms to house these huge beds. Royal or not, wealthy Europeans of this period could sleep in a bed frame fit for a king. 

Mattresses then still didn’t have much cushioning, and they were set atop a network of ropes or straps. The mattresses of today are more regal and restful. 

In the 16th and 17th centuries, beds decreased in size, but the four-poster style with heavy curtains was still popular. Mattresses were stuffed with materials including horsehair and wool, but they still had some lumps and bumps for sleepers to deal with.  

By the 18th century, beds were smaller and wooden, although, during this period, metal bed frames saw a rise in popularity. 

20th Century 

In the 19th century, mattresses began to resemble what we go to sleep on each night.  

Bed frames for the masses saw improvements during the industrial age, with ornate cast iron bed frames and headboards becoming prevalent.  

Making the most of the space available sparked the Murphy bed idea, which pulls out for sleeping and folds upward into the wall when not in use. A Murphy bed can turn your home office into a guest room in seconds. 

Futons are popular today for the same reason. They can fold out for accommodating guests for an overnight stay or be used as a sofa during non-sleeping hours. It’s more comfortable than sleeping on chair seats! 

Another space-saving option when house guests arrive is air mattresses. These can be deflated and stored after your company leaves, but these mattresses can leak, leaving a sleeper on a flat mattress by morning.  

The sleep surface advances made during the 20th century are more significant than the bed designs. Starting at the turn of the past century, mattresses began resembling the ones on the market today. Over the past decades, research and design improvements have made mattresses today the most comfortable ever available. 

Innerspring Mattresses  

German inventor Heinrich Westphal created the first inner-spring mattress in 1871 by placing a coil spring framework inside a fabric casing. Combined with a box spring, this mattress is considered to be the first modern mattress. 

Today, the innerspring mattress, with its metal coils, isn’t without a few changes. More than any other mattress type, innerspring mattresses position the sleeper on top of the mattress surface and not into the surface. The most recent innerspring mattresses are supportive and bouncy, and some of them have cores that include foam, giving you the best of foam and innerspring mattresses. 

Choosing between innerspring mattresses and foam mattresses may come down to personal preference. Some sleepers have a strong preference for Heinrich Westphal’s invention, and modifications, including pillow-topped versions, make today’s innerspring mattresses comfortable and sleep-inducing. 

Waterbeds

In the 19th century, Scottish inventor Neil Arnott invented a “hydrostatic bed,” or waterbed, as a medical device for those suffering from back pain. By the early 1970s, the waterbed made a big comeback, with its popularity surging throughout the decade and into the early 1980s.  

Just as in the 1870s, the waterbed was a favorite of those in need of back support since its firmness could be controlled by the amount of water added. Sleeping on a waterbed was comfortable and relaxing, but the maintenance of one meant having the equivalent of a garden hose hooked to your mattress for quite a bit of time. In the event of a leak, waterbed sleepers woke up in a puddle.  

Memory Foam 

Leave it to NASA to have a space-age solution to the need for comfortable mattresses. In the 1970s, NASA scientists developed temper-foam, or memory foam, a material with viscoelastic properties. Tempur-Pedic mattresses and others are made from this latex foam that provides support and comfort as you sleep. 

Memory foam mattresses and similar styles have a sleep surface that users sink into and that molds to the shape of the body for support everywhere. Those who have these mattresses swear by them for waking up without aches and pains. 

Latex mattresses made with Dunlop latex are a healthy, natural option for those looking for a new mattress. Tapped from rubber trees and whipped into a foam, Dunlop latex is a comfortable and durable choice. It tends to have one firmer side, which is good to know as you decide which side to sleep on.  

Polyurethane foam mattresses are available under multiple brand names and offer a similarly comfortable sleep surface for us denizens of the 21st century. Since these mattresses can be packed in boxes that are much smaller than their full size, shipping these mattresses to your home is easy. Once unpacked, they enlarge to full size within minutes. 

Sleep on It 

Whether you live in South Africa or San Francisco, a good night’s sleep is important to your health and happiness.  

Healthdirect, a service of the Australian Government Department of Health, holds that the benefits of sleep are numerous. In addition to recharging the body and mind, sleep strengthens the body’s immune system, keeps the heart healthy, helps in maintaining a healthy weight, and promotes healing. Attention, memory, and learning are all sharpened through the proper amount of sleep.  

No wonder everyone looks forward to relaxing in a comfortable bed and falling asleep at the end of a busy day! Since the health benefits are numerous, getting a new mattress is an investment in your health and well-being.  

Soft or firm, supportive or a sleep surface you can sink into – whatever your preference is, Best Mattress can help you go to sleep on one of the best mattresses in Australia. Whether you are a side sleeper or you sleep on your back, need warmth or coolness to sleep or a certain amount of support to wake up pain-free, we can help you find the best mattress. 

As an interior designer, I know the importance of form as well as function when it comes to mattresses and beds. Through our thorough reviews at Best Mattress, you’ll find a beautiful – and beautifully comfortable – new mattress and get the best sleep of your life.