Not knowing the origins of beds that allow quality rest makes it easier to take modern sleep comforts for granted without appreciating incremental innovations that eliminated back pain and health issues over time. I’m sharing how understanding the creators of early bedding draws attention to how far sleep health has progressed.
Who Invented the Bed: Introducing the World’s First Beds
The earliest known bed and oldest known mattress were documented more than 75,000 years ago as a 12-inch mattress of leaves discovered in South Africa. Around 8,000 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians elevated the beds, and Middle Eastern people incorporated frames for stability years later. However, it was the Romans who popularized the inclusion of mattresses.
The desire for a comfortable place to rest at night has existed for as long as we have, although standards for comfort have certainly changed. I’m going to discuss why beds were invented and how a great bed evolved over time.
|75,000+ years ago||Earliest known bed||12-inch mattress of leaves discovered in South Africa, large enough for groups|
|8,000 BCE||First raised beds||Ancient Egyptians elevated beds on platforms for pest avoidance, initially for wealthy people|
|3,000 BCE||Frame integration||People from Egypt and the Middle East incorporate bed frames for stability|
|2,500 BCE||Four-poster beds||Added tall corner posts and draping canopies for decorative style|
|500 BCE||Roman adoption||Raised beds with mattresses popularized across the Roman Empire|
|200 CE||Stuffed mattresses||Addition of feather/straw stuffing for cushier Roman mattresses|
|1200s CE||Enclosed frame beds||Full four-poster bed frames with curtains for insulation and privacy|
|15th century||Coil mattresses||Woven rope mesh mattresses offered bounce and breathability|
|1870s||Metal springs||Introduction of steel wire mattress springs|
|1899||Marshall mattress||Canadian James Marshall invents pocketed spring coil mattress manufacturing|
|20th century||Memory foam, latex foam, murphy bed||Beds started to become simpler for individual rooms|
|21st century||Innovative and adjustable beds||Bed manufacturers focus on comfort, practicality, and functionality|
Prehistoric Era in Circa 8,000 B.C.
Circa 8,000 B.C., it was common for prehistoric nomadic people to sleep on piles of leaves and grass mounded into the ground.
People would gather layers of plant material into mats and then burn them periodically to eradicate pests. These temporary camps keep hunter-gatherers warm by letting them curl in fetal positions.
The Invention of a Raised Bed in Ancient Egypt in Circa 3000 B.C. – 1000 B.C.
Fast forward to 3,000 – 1,000 B.C., the Ancient Egyptians invented a lot of significant things in history, and such innovations have contributed to the development of beds.
- Egyptians innovated raised bed designs with animal-shaped legs to lift sleepers off the cold ground.
- Transitioning into villages and metropolises also increased the number of pests hanging around to pick up the scraps of condensed human life. Commoners had plain wood to keep insects and rodents away, while higher classes had gold, jewels, and ebony.
- A simple platform bed held by woven reed strings was topped with wool cushion mattresses and linen sheets.
The Introduction of Straw and Wool Cushions in the Iron Age of Ancient Rome
Back then, Romans used wool straps and wooden beds, with wool strings holding up the mattress. Wealthy Romans had raised metal frame beds with woven metal supports holding a thickly stuffed feather mattress or a straw-stuffed mattress.
Poorer citizens of ancient Rome slept on floor mats wrapped in wool blankets. Regardless, social classes relied on woollen blankets to remain warm underneath.
Medieval Life in The Middle Ages
The nightmare-inducing beds of the past would begin to take on a more familiar form in the Medieval period, though they came with their own set of issues.
- Sleeping arrangements largely depended on social class, like many things in the Medieval period from the fifth to the 15th centuries. The bed was a status symbol, and your bed indicated wealth.
- Beds were opulently carved hardwoods adorned with luxurious quilted duvets in exotic colors, bed skirts, and canopies.
- Beds also thankfully included pillows instead of wooden and stone headrests.
- Beds at the time were some of the most expensive pieces of furniture one could get their hands on.
- Commoners slept on woven mats or wool and a hay-stuffed bag with the other household members.
- Sleeping on floor mats was a breeding ground for lice, ticks, and the spread of disease.
- Four-poster beds with heavy velvet drapes and feather mattresses demonstrated affluence.
- Sheets were often made of fine linen.
- Vikings already had minimal wood slat beds for easy transport on ships.
Large Beds During the Renaissance Period From the 14th to 17th Centuries
Beds during this period were much larger to accommodate entire families. They were essentially a sleeping dog pile for your entire family. It was unlikely to ever sleep in a bed alone unless you were on your death bed, both literally and figuratively.
- As the middle class grew in the 16th century, simple wooden beds became available to the masses. Likewise, common people in the Western world stopped sleeping on the bedroom floor.
- The 16th and 17th centuries also saw more middle-class people having separate sleeping quarters or bedrooms, previously a luxury available only to the upper class.
- While beds for the rich were grander and more luxurious than ever, you still had to do a bit of fighting over the covers.
- Poster beds with canopies, heavy fabric curtains, and rope supports were common in the Renaissance. For example, the great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains.
- Ropes needed regular tightening, possibly inspiring the “sleep tight” phrase.
- The middle class began to have separate bedrooms on the upper floor.
- Poorer citizens continued using simple pallets of hay laid on the floor.
- The wealthiest citizens hosted visitors and worked in elaborately decorated bed chambers.
- Passed down through generations, these carved wood canopy beds were luxury heirlooms.
- The Great Bed of Ware of the 16th century is a fantastic bed shown in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Call for a Simpler Style and Private Space in the 18th Century
Into the 18th century, the design of beds became more simplified. The standard bed is usually made out of carved wood in a four-poster style, devoid of the monumental canopies of the past. It’s also common to see a wooden trunk to store clothing.
Separate bed chambers were also the new norm in the 18th century, including a separate bedroom for each family member. It was no longer typical to have servants sleeping on the floor.
- Beds became simpler in style, with curtains still common.
- Cotton-stuffed mattresses replaced hay-stuffed bags.
- A major shift was bedrooms becoming private personal spaces for sleeping.
- All classes began reserving bedrooms for rest versus public receptions.
A More Modern Mattress in the 19th Century
It wasn’t until the Victorian Era that sleep became an activity done in solitude. People no longer had to sleep in the same bed with mom, dad, brother, sister, maid, butler, and dog. However, the Victorians were so insistent on the importance of prudish privacy that even married couples were not to share a bed.
This trend of separate marital beds would stick around for some couples well into the 20th century. Social norms surrounding the bed and its form evolved through the 19th century. Despite that, mattresses still weren’t very comfortable by contemporary standards.
The Victorians invented the spring mattress to alleviate the discomfort of lumpy organic mattresses. In 1899, Canadian-born James Marshall created the spring pocket mattress, and this innovation would soon spring into popularity worldwide. Marshall’s invention would become the global standard for spring mattresses, transforming how people sleep forever.
- Bedrooms devoted more exclusively to rest and intimacy.
- Four-poster beds are still popular, yet they are smaller and have less ornamentation.
- Mass production enabled affordable beds in numerous historical styles.
- Instead of wool straps, metal bedsprings provided support yet often squeaked annoyingly.
- Box spring platforms were invented to support various mattress types.
The Popularity of the Memory Foam Mattress in the 20th Century
The spring mattress dominated the market through the 20th century. However, innovations continued, and new inventive ways to sleep were dreamed up to have a more supportive bed.
- With endless options, you can sleep in a bunk bed, a loft bed, a circular bed, a waterbed, a murphy bed, or even a racecar bed.
- The 20th century also saw the invention of the memory foam mattress, which still holds popularity today.
- Latex foam and gel foam were also popular among the masses.
- Marshall coil mattresses surged in popularity.
- Bed frames were paired with upholstered divan bases and box spring supports.
- Frames greatly increased comfort and support versus earlier platforms.
The Beds of the 21st Century
While beds from the Middle Ages through the 19th century were monumental in scale and weight and highly decorative, modern design in the 21st century has gone back to the basics in a way, with many beds now not even including as much as a headboard.
- A contributor to this minimalism was the invention of rolled steel, which made the creation of a bedframe possible. This makes it possible to simply have a mattress on top of a steel frame with steel or wooden slats for support.
- Many beds with a simple (or no) headboard resemble ancient Egyptian and Classical Roman beds more closely than the more recent Medieval and Renaissance bed frames, except for stone pillows.
- There are more choices than ever, including latex foam, pocket springs, and cushions with natural fibers.
- Divan bases are still common with wide options like wood or metal frames.
- Bed innovations include bunk beds, futons, sofa beds, and adjustable beds. Some have a trundle bed that could be pulled out to sleep family members or servants.
- While styles changed, beds still provide a safe, warm, and comfortable mattress.
- Nowadays, you can build an IKEA murphy bed or a Wayfair bed in the afternoon.
We’ve certainly come a long way from sleeping on sacks of hay and the earliest grass-lined pits in a relatively short amount of time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Made a Bed at First?
The earliest bedding archaeologists discovered dates back over 75,000 years ago to South Africa, where prehistoric humans piled cured grasses and leaves 12 inches high to form mattressed surfaces, protecting sleepers from the ground. Egyptians, Middle Eastern people, and Romans eventually integrated more features to make a great bed more comfortable.
Who Was the Person Who Invented the Bed?
While an individual creator is unknown, prehistoric nomadic people whose nights were generally spent resting on piles of leaves were considered the ones who conceptualized beds. However, the first purposeful beds with elevated platforms removing people from direct ground contact are attributed to anonymous innovators in ancient Egyptian culture roughly 8,000 years ago.
Which Is the First Bed in the World?
Archaeologists identify the earliest man-made bed as an approximately 12-inch-thick mattress of leaves and grasses dating over 75,000 years ago, discovered in South Africa. However, those with more solid structures and comfortable mattresses were made in Egypt, Italy, and the Middle East later on.
The invention of the bed is an ancient and collective human endeavor that transcends a singular innovator. From the resourceful constructions of early hunter-gatherers to the opulent designs of medieval artisans, the evolution of the bed mirrors the diverse and inventive nature of human societies throughout history.