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The History of the BedJune 17, 2016
The history of the bed dates back as far as the history of man. While beds have come along way, as have we, for as long as man has walked on two legs he has slept in a bed of sorts. The beds our earliest ancestors slept in would hardly be classified as beds today, but they were a place to rest their weary heads after a long day of surviving.
The earliest men were nomadic, wandering from place to place in search of food, shelter and safety. They would settle at the end of each day, usually in a cave or some other spot that offered protection from elements, dig out a shallow spot and lay there for the night. Sometimes they would pad the hollow dug-out with leaves grass or a fur or skin to add cushioning, and settle in for the night. While these rudimentary mattresses offered slightly more comfort than the bare hard ground, they were dirty, dusty and offered very little protection from insects, snakes and rodents. Occasionally if there was a flat rock to hand this would be fashioned into a pillow of sorts - a far cry from the soft down pillow we have come to know.
As man settled into permanent dwellings and camps, beds evolved into slightly more sophisticated structures. It has been discovered that the European Neolithic men slept on stone slabs that would have been cushioned with furs for warmth and protection.
At the same time as stone slabs were being utilised in Northern Europe, the Egyptians were sleeping on much more sophisticated and innovative structures. They had raised beds, and the higher your status the higher your bed was. The wealthier Egyptians decorated their bed structures with carvings and adorned them with gold trimmings. They were cushioned with wool pillows and lined with linen sheeting. At the same time, not far from Egypt, the Persians had invented the earliest water beds by sewing together goat skins and filling them with water. These ‘mattresses’ were left out in the sun during the day to warm up and then moved into the sleeping chambers at night.
It was only much later that the Europeans adopted raised beds. During the Middle Ages, beds were made of wooden structures and strung together using rope or leather. Because space was a premium, beds were multifunctional, used as seating during the day and for sleeping at night.
By the start of the Renaissance, beds became more than just somewhere to rest after a weary day. They became status symbols and pieces of art. Many wealthy aristocrats would entertain from their bed chambers and would run their affairs whilst in bed. Bed frames, still made of wood, were ornately carved and adorned with gilt and jewels. Bedding was made of heavy brocade fabrics and trimmed with lace and fringe. These beds were quite literally fit for a king.
The 17th and 18th century saw a much wider range of materials being used, including feather and down for mattresses and pillows for those placed higher in society, while wool, horsehair and coconut fibre were more common lower down the ranks. The 18th century also saw the introduction of iron bed frames as the Industrial Revolution progressed. These were considered to be much more hygienic than wooden beds during a time where pestilence and disease were rife.
The Industrial Revolution had an impact on life across the board, and the bed was no exception. Steel coils were first used to add support and comfort for mattresses resting on bed frames. It did not take long for bed makers to discover that installing steel springs into the mattresses themselves also added to comfort levels.
It was not until the early 20th century, 1900 to be precise, that the first pocket spring mattress was patented in Canada. English engineer, James Marshall (who was living in Canada), created a mattress system with individual springs sealed into fabric pockets. The springs gave support and offered comfort like never before.
Since then, bed technology has continued to push boundaries and innovate to create comfort and restful sleep. Memory foam, temperature regulating beds and more. We live in age where boundaries are constantly being pushed, and in the case of the bed it only adds value to our lives. Next time you put your head down after a long day, think that in times gone by your ancestors were hunkering down in hole for the night. How lucky we are to have come so far.
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