Abe Feller

Abe Feller
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Abe Feller

by Michael O'Brien

Something that most people take for granted on a daily basis is a good night's sleep. The fact is, you may not even know that a lack of a good night's sleep affecting you. You may not even be aware that the symptoms that you are experiencing are the result of lack of sleep. However, when you experience a full night's sleep for the first time in quite awhile, you begin to realize its importance. A key element of a good night's sleep is your mattress. You may not realize it, but your mattress could be the sole reason why you are or are not sleeping. The mattress has come a long way through history. Today, consumers can spend thousands of dollars on a mattress. The beginning of what we know as the modern-day mattress, however, was far more humble.

So what led humans to develop the modern mattress? The answer is probably comfort. Imagine sleeping on the ground night after night and you get a good idea of what it was like to sleep in ancient times. The word mattress itself comes from Arabic language. During the earlier Middle Ages, the Arabic culture was more advanced than European culture. One convenience that was enjoyed in the Arabic culture was sleeping on cushions that were thrown on the floor. So, the word mattress comes from the Arabic word, taraha, or "to throw". The word matrah, meant to place where something is thrown or mat, cushion. The word mattress may have come about during the Middle Ages, but the mattress itself actually came about much earlier.

Bed History

It is believed that humans first began sleeping on primitive beds as far back as 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period. The first mattresses, were likely just pads made of grass or straw. The first beds consisted of a simple wooden framework, held together by ropes or bands of leather. Eventually, the mattress became an actual bag of soft filling which was most commonly straw. Other materials used to stuff an early mattress were: coconut fiber, horse hair, pea shucks, feathers, rags and eventually cotton and wool. This bag was usually covered in a cheap fabric. It was not until the mid-18th century that the cover became made of high quality linen or cotton.

The Egyptian pharaohs made the next major breakthrough in the development of the mattress. Approximately 3400 B.C.E., the pharaohs began to realize the benefits of raising pallets off of the floor. Common Egyptians slept on what was basically a pile of palm bows in the corners of their homes. However, wealthy Egyptians had far more elaborate beds. It is thought that King Tutankahmen enjoyed a bed that was decorated with ebony and gold. The beds in ancient Egypt were used for more than sleeping. They were thought of as status symbols. It was not unusual for meals to be served in bed or for the bed to be used as a place to entertain socially.

It is believed that the first luxury bed was developed during the Roman Empire. These elaborate beds were often decorated in gold, silver and bronze. Their mattresses were usually stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers. The Romans are also credited with inventing the first form of the waterbed. A person would recline in a cradle of warm water until they felt drowsy. Then they would be placed in another nearby cradle where they would be rocked to sleep. A number of years later, this concept would be further expanded when goatskins were filled with water, thus creating the first real waterbed.

During the Renaissance, mattresses were usually made of pea shucks or straw. They were then stuffed into a coarse covering. However, during the Renaissance, people realized how much more comfortable mattresses could be if they were then covered with velvet or silk. During the 16th and 17th centuries, mattresses were generally stuffed with straw or down. The mattress was then placed upon an intricate system of ropes. This led to a popular saying at bedtime that is still used today. In order to support the sleeper, the ropes had to be regularly tightened, thus the saying, sleep tight.

Then, during the Industrial Revolution, the steel spring was invented. It was first patented for use in a chair in 1857. The invention of the first innerspring mattress in 1871 is credited to a German man named Heinrich Westphal. Sadly, Westphal never profited from his invention and died alone and in poverty.

Actually, it would be about 60 years before the innerspring mattress gained any measure of popularity. Early manufactured innerspring mattresses were filled with cotton, hair or feathers, although cotton proved to be the best seller. The cotton was stuffed into a mattress cover and beaten with some sort of stick to make it flat. The foundations were usually an open coil box spring.

One event that was important in the development of the modern mattress was the passing of sanitation laws. In the early days, it was not uncommon for mattresses, even fresh off of the assembly line, to be infested with some kind of bugs or vermin. The organic filling provided a natural attraction. This led to another popular bedtime saying still used today. Have you ever said don't let the bed bugs bite?

These days, it is not uncommon for people to pay thousands of dollars for their mattresses and box springs. All kinds of inventions and innovations have changed the way people think about their sleeping surfaces. Waterbeds, which were once very popular, are basically a thing of the past. They have been replaced with high-quality innerspring mattresses and mattresses made entirely of foam. Some companies even offer a two-sided mattress, which is soft on one side and firm on the other side, basically giving the consumer two mattresses in one!