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History of Beds

The History of Beds Written by Phil Pendleton ©Copyright 2007-2015
The history of beds is an interesting study of the beds used by our ancient and modern ancestors dating back thousands of years across a multitude of continents and cultures. Archeologists, Anthropologists and Historians have studied and well documented these findings from tablets, writings, historical artwork and paintings. These discoveries also included the beds themselves that have been preserved over the centuries in museums and private collections. This history presents us with a look into how beds have evolved over the centuries, the changes in designs and materials used and how these beds have influenced bed construction through the ages.

A grass-filled pit from the Early Neolithic Age believed to have been a child-size sleeping bed discovered in Hinds Cave in 1975. Image courtesy of Prehistoric Texas
Beds from the Early Neolithic Age: 7000 B.C. -6000 B.C.
Much of what we know about this period comes from primitive human drawings found on cave walls or from archeological digs. In the mid-1970's, a research team from Texas A&M led by professors Harry J. Shafer and Vaughn M. Bryant carefully excavated Hinds Cave located in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands in southwestern Texas. There they discovered a treasure trove of artifacts dating back over 9,000 years left there by the nomadic hunter-gatherers that moved through the area.[1] The discovery was that of grass-lined beds that the site's occupants once curled up in to sleep. Pits were created in the soft sediment and this grass was lined into the pits offering some comfort to its occupant. The size of many of these pits suggested that the occupant would sleep in the fetal position.[2]
Late Neolithic Age home featuring a stone dresser and two stone beds in the Skara Brae prehistoric village located in Orkney Scotland UK. Image courtesy of Prehistoric UK
Beds from the Late Neolithic Age: 5000 B.C. - 4000 B.C.
Several unearthed sites by archeologists from this period give us a much better understanding of beds, bedroom furniture and life in the Late Neolithic Age. One of the most well preserved of these sites is located in Orkney Scotland, UK, An island located at the northern most part of Scotland. The settlement known as Skara Brae was protected by dunes until its discovery. In 1850 heavy storms washed away part of the dunes to reveal the best preserved prehistoric village in Northern Europe.[3] The people of this period primarily used stone in their furnishings and this can be seen in the image to the right. It shows a stone dresser which would have held tools or other important possessions. Surrounding this dresser to the left and right are ancient beds. These were huge slabs of stone that would most likely have been topped with bracken (a large fern) and covered with animal skins for warmth and comfort.[4] Perhaps these could be considered early platform beds due in part to their box shape.

Bronze Age Egyptian wood bed featuring gold sheaths and a platform consisting of woven mats. Animal shaped legs accented many Egyptian bed styles in this era. Image courtesy of Eternal Egypt
Beds from the Bronze Age: 3000 B.C. - 1000 B.C.
The Bronze Age brought about many changes to how beds would be made in the centuries that followed. Most notably were the designs that craftsman and woodworkers in ancient Egypt began using. Simple beds were made for the common people while the most elaborate of designs and materials were used in the construction of beds for the wealthy and for the Egyptian Pharaohs. Much of what we know about Egyptian beds we have learned from both hieroglyphs as well as the wood furniture itself found in the tombs of the pharaohs. The most ornate of these wooden beds were created with elaborate gold sheaths covering the outside of the bed.[5] Woven mats were placed on the wood framework creating a platform for the mattress and beneath this animal shaped legs accented the lower half of these beds. Mattresses were constructed of wooden slats with plaited (a type of stitch) strings or reeds which would hold wool cushions or other types of soft material. Egyptian used sheets made of linen.[6]

Etruscan metal bed frame. Platform consisted of metal weaved together. A feather or straw mattress would have been used on top. Image courtesy of the Vatican Museum
Beds from the Iron Age: 1000 B.C. - 476 A.D.
The Iron Age was an important and gradual transition from the Bronze age for many cultures throughout the world as people began to figure out how to make furniture, tools and weapons from Iron. The reason this was significant is that the discovery of iron's melting point being higher than that of bronze meant that steel alloy consisting of mostly iron could be developed which was far superior to that of bronze.[7] People could now build a better bed. The Roman civilization until its fall around 476 A.D. produced many
advances including how beds were to be designed. Wealthier Roman and European beds from this era consisted of several supports beneath a platform consisting of an outer metal frame and metal weaved in a cross pattern across the platform to provide support for the mattress. Most of the mattresses used on these beds consisted of a filling with feathers or straw. Wool blankets would have been used with these beds.[8] However less fortunate Europeans in this era would have had to be content with mats on the floor filled with bugs.[9]

St. James appears to King Charlemagne in a dream. Notice the ornate styling of his bed in this painting. Image courtesy of Saint-Jacques
Beds during the Middle Ages: 476 A.D. - 1200 A.D.
After the fall of Rome was the period of the Middle Ages (or Dark Ages as it is also commonly referred to). A turbulent and violent time in which great struggles and hardships befell the people of Europe and abroad. Popular Frankish furniture of nobles in the era of Kings like Charlemagne would typically have been styled with bed posts and draped fabric coverings.[10] This style continued to evolve and grow in popularity well into the end of the Renaissance period. This period also gave rise to Medieval designs that featured heavier construction and appearance in beds that would have been found in Saxon and Anglian designs

10th Century Norwegian Bed made of Beech. Taken from a Gokstad ship. Platform of the bed consisted of wood slats. Straw or hay stuffed into a sack made up this Viking mattress. Image courtesy of House Greydragon

In Scandinavia during this period, Norwegian Vikings were building wood slatted platform style beds for use in their ships. These wood beds were more basic in design from much of the rest of the world but show us a people who began integrating slat construction into their design. The 10th century bed shown to the left shows these slats actually fitted into and through the side railings of the bed. The two side rails are designed to fit through the bed post legs in order to secure them.[11] This construction allowed the Norwegian Vikings great flexibility in getting them into their ships for the voyages ahead.

16th Century Rope Bed. Pegs made up much of the corner joinery. Craftsmen pulled ropes through holes throughout the base of the bed to form the central platform of the bed. Images courtesy of the Saffron Walden Museum
Beds during the Renaissance: 1300 A.D. - 1600 A.D.
Beginning in Italy, the Renaissance was a cultural movement later spreading across Europe. The artistic aspect is probably the most noted achievement during this period but advances in the revival of learning and advancements in science also began to flourish. Renaissance furniture from this period almost always included a canopy and posts in the design. Many designs for these beds from the 16th & 17th centuries used ropes to make up the central platform of the bed. Holes were made through the side rails and the footboard and headboard of these beds. The craftsmen would then pull the ropes through these holes in a pattern much like the bed shown to the left.[12] Hence what led to the expression "sleep tight" as these ropes required regular maintenance and tightening.

17th Century Glouchester Oak Tester Rope Bed. Image courtesy of Christies's
The bed featured to the right is a 17th Century Glouchester Oak Tester Rope Bed. (Tester refers to top portion of the bed canopy as being solid.) [13] The detail and craftsmanship of 17th Century woodworkers can be seen in the hand carved detail in and around the bed. What made these canopy beds so popular to the people in this period is that homes had few rooms and drapes could be placed on/around the bed to give it seclusion from the home around it and provided some level of privacy to sleeping. This bed of course also features holes for the rope platform used throughout beds or this era. Joined frame and paneled beds became the inspiration to many furniture makers in the centuries that followed as this style flourished in these eras.

18th Century American walnut colonial bed featuring bed hangings and textiles. Image courtesy of St. Louis Art Museum
Beds during the Late Colonial Era: 1700 A.D. - 1799 A.D.
During this period colonial powers such as England, France & Spain continued to assert their influence across the world. This influence could also be seen in the furnishings of this period as being very European and continued to borrow from the advances in construction and design from the Renaissance period. However new designs and ideas began emerging in this era and saw the introduction of many new construction techniques.[14] The image to the left depicts an early 18th Century American bed. With the advancements in sawing led to an increase in the use of Walnut in beds in this period as well. This offered an alternative form of decoration and helped see a decrease in carved surfaces that were so prominent in bed designs in the centuries proceeding.[15] Beds and bedroom furnishings of this era were often adorned with extensive textiles such as bedding, curtains, bed hangings & drapes. Typically in 18th Century households, the most valuable piece of furniture in the home was the bed and so it was decorated in the most ornate and stylish way.

19th Century mahogany bed. Inlaid with line and figures of brass, mother of pearl, copper and pewter.
Image courtesy of Ragoarts
Beds during the Industrial Revolution: 1800 A.D - 1899 A.D
During this period in furniture, radical changes in society brought about by changing styles of government, increased working populations across the world and the rise of a new classes of wealth gave way to the beginnings of mass production. Traditional ornate and hand carved bed designs were gone. They were replaced by simple flowing lines. Styles became less ornamental like in centuries past and were now more elegant in appearance. Mahogany and Satinwood became the dominant species of wood used during this period.
Mass production of parts made bed manufacturing simple and cheap and eventually led to manufacturers putting out revival or reproduction beds grafted with historically correct ornaments.[16] (Renaissance, Greek, Egyptian, Ect.) Individual craftsmen and designers were unable to compete with these imitated styles being cheaply made and put into the market to these newly wealthy but uninformed furniture buyers and often found themselves eventually working with these manufacturers out of a need to stay employed.

1970's Hardside Waterbed frame. MDF particle board pedestal. Platform consisted of criss cross supports and panels over the top.
Image courtesy of waterbed fads
The Modern Waterbed 1883 A.D. to Present:
There has been much debate as to when the first waterbed was created and used. Many attribute the Persians as being the first to try the use of enclosing liquid for sleeping on. History tells us though that in 1883 the first waterbed patent was issued to Dr. William Hooper of Portsmouth, England. His bed was devised as an attempt to relieve bed sores that his patients were suffering from.[17] However this early attempt at a waterbed was unsuccessful as Dr. Hooper could not control the temperature of the water and patients found his bed to be cold and clammy.

In 1968 Charles Hall created the modern waterbed design with help from fellow SFSU students Paul Heckel and Evan Fawkes. Originally they were trying to build an innovative chair out of vinyl bag with 300 pounds of cornstarch. The next attempt was to fill it with Jell-O but this too was unsuccessful. The three abandoned the chair concept and settled on perfecting the concept into a bed and created the waterbed and it's accessories like a heater, patches and repair kits.[18] Typical waterbed construction consists of a MDF particle board pedestal. Inside the pedestal are cross shaped supports. Around the pedestal a raised outer framework is installed. Modern waterbeds use a heater with a thermostat to control the temperature of the water. Panels are installed over the cross shaped supports in the platform of the bed. A liner is placed inside the bed and the vinyl waterbed mattress is inserted into the frame and filled with water.
Waterbed popularity soared in the 70's but even though they are now considered a fad, they are still sold throughout the world even today from a variety of vendors.

A Murphy Bed created by William L. Murphy out of a need to free up space in his 1-room apartment so as to entertain his guests..
Image courtesy Murphy Bed Co. Inc.
The Murphy Bed: 1900 A.D. - Present
William L. Murphy was an American designer of a folding bed that has come to be called a "Murphy Bed" which are still sold today. This unique invention consisted of a folding bed featuring a steel platform which accommodated a single mattress. (Twin, Full or Queen size depending on the model.) The idea behind this bed came to Mr. Murphy as he resided in a one room apartment in San Francisco and his existing bed took up too much space when he tried to entertain guests. He experimented with folding a bed up and applied for his first patent in 1900. These humble beginnings eventually led to the forming of the "Murphy Wall Bed Company" that still exists today and is managed by his grandson Clark W. Murphy who is the current President of of the company.[19] Although the Murphy Beds popularity peaked in the 1920's & 1930's, they are still popular today.

Modern Platform Bed bedroom set constructed from beech wood and shown in maple and white finishes. Image courtesy of
Present or Modern Day Beds:
Many more choices are available to today's consumers in the way of beds and mattresses than in any other era of history. Current trends in furniture change every year as new and exciting models continue to be introduced by some of the leading manufacturers in the industry. Much of today's beds and platform beds are offered in traditional, transitional and contemporary styles in a wide variety of ever changing designs. New colors are also being made available in beds and furniture as manufacturers develop new techniques of applying more vibrant and unique colors and stains to both wood, metal and other newer materials. With the advances in bed construction and design this period in history is sure to be remembered in its own right as actively working to offer people the styles and choices they want in an era that continues to move forward.

The history of beds presented here has given us an idea of how beds have evolved over the centuries. Many of the bed styles and designs in our present era can be traced back to these advances and influences that our ancient and modern ancestors achieved during their periods in history. Modern day beds represent the cumulative efforts of so many individuals over the last 9000 years and gives us a broader appreciation of how far mankind has come in their attempts to provide us all with a better bed for which to sleep.



1. ^ Harry J. Shafer, Hinds Cave: A Prehistoric Treasure. Available[Online]: <> [9 August 2007].

2. ^ Harry J. Shafer, Hinds Cave Artifacts. Available[Online]: <>. [9 August 2007].
3. ^ Skara Brae Prehistoric Settlement. Available[Online]: [9 August 2007].
4. ^ Skara Brae - The Furniture. Available[Online]: <>. [9 August 2007].
5. ^ Eternal Egypt: Bed Covered with Gold Sheet. Available[Online]: [9 August 2007].
6. ^ Ilene Springer, Welcome to the Ancient Egyptian Home. Available[Online]: <>. [9 August 2007].
7. ^ Joseph Spoerl, A Brief History of Iron and Steel Production. Available[Online]: <>. [9 August 2007].
8. ^ Karen Carr, Ancient Rome - Roman People. Available[Online]: <>. [10 August 2007].
9. ^ Roman Furniture. Available[Online]: <>. [10 August 2007].
10. ^ Medieval Furniture, Home Decor Styles in Medieval Times. Available[Online]: <>. [10 August 2007].
11. ^ Charles Oakley, 10th Century Norwegian Bed. Available[Online]: [10 August 2007].
12. ^ Saffron Walden Museum- Saffron Waldon. Available[Online]: <>.[11 August 2007].
13. ^ Stanley Reed, If This Furniture Could Talk. Available[Online]: [12 August 2007].
14. ^ Graham Blackburn, A Short History of Furniture Periods. Available[Online]: [12 August 2007].
15. ^ Graham Blackburn, A Short History of Furniture Periods. Available[Online]: [12 August 2007].
16. ^ Graham Blackburn, A Short History of Furniture Periods. Available[Online]: [12 August 2007].
17. ^ Faqs English - Who Invented the Waterbed? Available[Online]: [10 August 2007].
18. ^ Waterbeds - The Bad Fads Museum. Available[Online]: <>. [12 August 2007].
19. ^ Murphy Bed Company - The History of the Murphy Bed. Available[Online]: [12 August 2007].


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Notes from the Author:
The author has made every effort to attribute citations or credit to the works or materials of the individuals or websites from which this material was cited or referenced from including but not limited to web pages, books, images, text, etc. Any and all intellectual property rights or copyright remain the exclusive property of the author of said material that were cited and used in the creation of this research document. If you are the author of this material and believe it is being used inappropriately, please contact the author so that the situation can be addressed. This research document is copyright the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form. Used with permission for © Copyright Phil Pendleton 2007-2015