What types of mattress did our ancestors sleep on?
The technology and materials involved in mattress production are constantly changing and refining to meet our needs. The mattress has been around for hundreds of years, and our forebears certainly weren’t treated to the delights of individual pocket springs or moulded memory foam.
From sleeping directly on the floor, with perhaps only an animal skin separating them from the ground, people decided to raise their beds off the floor in order to be cleaner and avoid insects. Rather than having a contained mattress, the earliest sleepers would have used straw or grass on top of their sleeping platform with an animal skin on top to provide a barrier. It’s thought that the first water beds were seen in Persia, where goat skins were filled with water, and the redoubtable Romans used bags filled with reeds or wool – although the wealthy used feathers for comfort and luxury.
As with many things, the mattress didn’t move on much between the time the Romans left Britain and the turn of the first millennium. Royalty and important people began to cover their mattresses in richer cloth and use a wider variety of fillings, including feathers, straw and down. By the 16th and 17th Centuries, mattresses were fitted onto beds with bases made from rope or leather. During this time, the bed was a real symbol of status, so the more ornate and elaborate the bed and the more luxurious the mattress, the more important the person.
The industrial revolution and its aftermath produced dramatic changes in mattress technology. New materials were used for filling – particularly natural fibres such as coir fibre from the coconut and cotton, and the coil spring, first invented for use in chair cushions, was adapted for mattresses. Between the late 19th century when the spring began to be used more widely, and today, the advances in mattress technology mean that we can lie on foam that was developed for people travelling in space and spring systems that move with us every time we change position.
Like many of today’s commodities, we have a lot to thank the innovators and inventors of the past for when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
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