The History of The Bed
The History of the Bed by “The Old Man”
A bed is a large piece of furniture (or a location) used as a place to sleep, and as a primary place for relaxation and sexual activity. In many cultures it is considered the most important piece of furniture in the home.
The earliest known beds, almost 38,000 years old were recently discovered in a cave, once used by Neanderthals, in southern Europe. The cave people dug a shallow pit and lined it with pine boughs.
Today’s beds usually consist of a mattress placed on top of a box spring or a wood platform. The box spring is a large mattress-sized upholstered box containing wood and springs or non flexible steel rods that provide additional support and suspension for the mattress. Very low end mattresses come with a foundation that resembles a box spring but contains no steel supports or springs.
The box spring will often be supported by a steel bed frame or on wooden bed slats when used with a headboard and footboard.
A “headboard”, “side rails”, and “footboard” or “front rail” will complete the bed.
“Headboard only” beds often incorporate a dust ruffle, bed skirt, or valance sheet to hide the bed frame.
Also, some people prefer to dispense with the box spring and bed frame, and replace it with a platform bed. Platform beds have a flat surface the same size or larger than the mattress for support. Some platform beds have flexible or padded surfaces under the mattress.
See www. charlesprogers.com for examples.
Beds in the Ancient World
Early beds (8000 BC) were little more than piles of straw or some other natural material (e.g. a heap of palm leaves). An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid draughts, dirt, and pests. Such furniture was introduced in 3400 BC. Given the increased cost though, it was only available to the wealthy. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang round. The elite of Egyptian society such as its pharaohs and queens even had beds made of wood, sometimes gilded. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood or metal. Ancient Assyrians, Medes and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliqués of metal, mother-of-pearl and ivory.
The Bible says that King Og had a very large bed (13.5 ft x 6 ft). “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.” — Deuteronomy 3:11
The oldest account of a bed is probably that of Odysseus: a charpoy woven of rope, plays a role in the Odyssey. A similar bed can be seen at the St Fagans National History Museum in Wales. Odysseus also gives an account of how he crafted the nuptial bed for himself and Penelope, out of an ancient, huge olive tree trunk that used to grow on the spot before the bridal chamber was built. His detailed description finally persuades the doubting Penelope that the shipwrecked, aged man is indeed her long-lost husband. Homer also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the vase paintings.
The Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers; the last was used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two persons, and had a board or railing at the back as well as the raised portion at the head. The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus had one of solid silver.
- lectus cubicularis, or chamber bed, for normal sleeping;
- lectus genialis, the marriage bed, it was much decorated, and was placed in the atrium opposite the door.
- lectus discubitorius, or table bed, on which they ate—for they ate while lying on their left side—there being usually three people to one bed, with the middle place accounted the most honorable position;
- lectus lucubratorius, for studying;
- and a lectus funebris, or emortualis, on which the dead were carried to the pyre.
The ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early Middle Ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool or hair, and used skins as a covering. They appear to have generally lain naked in bed, wrapping themselves in the large linen sheets which were stretched over the cushions. In the 13th century luxury increased, and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved and painted ornament. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed, while silk-covered skins served as coverlets. Curtains were hung from the ceiling or from an iron arm projecting from the wall. The Carolingian manuscripts show metal bedsteads much higher at the head than at the feet, and this shape continued in use until the 13th century in France, many cushions being added to raise the body to a sloping position. In the 12th-century manuscripts the bedsteads appear much richer, with inlays, carving and painting, and with embroidered coverlets and mattresses in harmony. Curtains were hung above the bed, and a small hanging lamp is often shown. In the 14th century the woodwork became of less importance, being generally entirely covered by hangings of rich materials. Silk, velvet and even cloth of gold were much used. Inventories from the beginning of the 14th century give details of these hangings lined with fur and richly embroidered. Then it was that the tester bed made its first appearance, the tester being slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains, sometimes even so as to exclude all drafts. The space between bed and wall was called the ruelle, and very intimate friends were received there.
In the 15th century beds became very large, reaching to 7 or 8 feet by 6 or 7 feet. The mattresses were often filled with pea-shucks, straw or feathers. At this time great personages were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the 16th century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods.
Renaissance and Modern Europe
In the 17th century, which has been called “the century of magnificent beds,” the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. Louis XIV had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or golden ground. The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which “The Triumph of Venus” was embroidered. So much gold was used that the velvet scarcely showed.
In the 18th century feather pillows were first used as coverings in Germany, which in the fashions of the bed and the curious etiquette connected with the bedchamber followed France for the most part. The beds were a la duchesse, but in France itself there was great variety both of name and shape. The custom of the “bed of justice” upon which the king of France reclined when he was present in parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, and the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne. Louis XI is credited with its first use, and the custom lasted till the end of the monarchy. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords, whom it was desired to honor, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers. At Versailles women received their friends in their beds, both before and after childbirth, during periods of mourning, and even directly after marriage – in fact in any circumstances which were thought deserving of congratulation or condolence. During the 17th century this curious custom became general, perhaps to avoid the tiresome details of etiquette. Portable beds were used in high society in France till the end of the Ancien Régime. The earliest of which mention has been found belonged to Charles the Bold. They had curtains over a light framework, and were in their way as fine as the stationary beds.
Iron beds appear in the 18th century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads. One of the earliest makers of metal beds in the USA is Charles P. Rogers beds established in 1855 and still forging ahead: still hand making the same antique patterns and the most contemporary designs available. Elsewhere, there was also the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters, and in England – where beds were commonly quite simple in form – the four poster was the usual citizen’s bed until the middle of the 19th century.
Types of beds
There are many varieties of beds:
- A brass plated bed is a cheap bed of iron, a false brass bed, with a thin covering of brass, which with time peels off and the iron is exposed
- An adjustable bed is a bed that can be adjusted to a number of different positions
- An air bed uses an air-inflated mattress(es), sometimes connected to an electric air pump and having variable, firmness controls. The portable version of an air bed can also be rolled up and packed, so is meant for travel or temporary guest use.
- A bassinet is a bed specifically for newborn infants.
- A box-bed is a bed having the form of a large box with wooden roof, sides, and ends, opening in front with two sliding panels or shutters; often used in cottages in Scotland: sometimes also applied to a bed arranged so as to fold up into a box.
- A brass bed, constructed from brass
- A bunk bed is two or more beds one atop the other.
- A captain’s bed (also known as a chest bed or cabin bed) is a platform bed with drawers and storage compartments built in underneath.
- A camp bed (also cot) is a simple, temporary, portable bed used by armies and large organizations in times of crisis. Many hotels offer folding cots for extra guests.
- A canopy bed is similar to a four poster bed, but the posts usually extend higher and are adorned or draped with cloth, sometimes completely enclosing the bed.
- A curtained bed is a luxury bed with curtains.
- A daybed is a couch that is used as a seat by day and as a bed by night.
- A futon is a traditional style of Japanese bed that is also available in a larger Western style.
- A four poster bed is a bed with four posts, one in each corner.
- A hospital bed is specifically designed to facilitate convalescence, traditionally in a hospital or nursing facility, but increasingly in other settings, such as a private residence. Modern hospital beds commonly have wheels to assist in moderate relocation, but they are larger and generally more permanently placed than a gurney. The hospital bed is also a common unit of measurement for the capacity of any type of inpatient medical facility, though it is just as common to shorten the term to bed in that usage.
- An infant bed (also crib or cot) is a small bed specifically for babies and infants.
- An iron bed, developed in the 1850s, is constructed of iron and steel.
- A kang bed-stove is a Chinese ceramic room heater used as the platform for a bed.
- A Manjaa is a traditional Punjabi bed made of tied ropes bordered by a wooden frame.
- A Murphy bed or wall bed is a bed that can hinge into a wall or cabinet to save space.
- A pallet is a thin, lightweight mattress.
- A platform bed is a mattress resting on a solid, flat raised surface, either free-standing or part of the structure of the room.
- A roll-away bed (or cot) is a bed whose frame folds in half and rolls in order to be more easily stored and moved.
- A rope bed is a pre-modern bed whose wooden frame includes crossing rope to support the typically down-filled single mattress.
- A sofa bed is a bed that is stored inside a sofa.
- A state bed developed in Early Modern Europe from a hieratic canopy of state.
- A toddler bed is a small bed for young children.
- A trundle bed or truckle bed is a bed usually stored beneath a twin bed also sometimes referred to as a sleepover bed.
- A vibrating bed is typically a coin-operated novelty found in a vintage motel. For a fee, the mattress vibrates for a duration of time. Alternatively it is a modern bed which vibrates by use of an off-centre motor. It is controlled by electronics for varying time and amplitude settings and is used therapeutically to ease back pains.
- A waterbed is a bed/mattress combination where the mattress is filled with water.
Bed frames, also called bed steads, are made of wood or metal. The frame is made up of head, foot, and side rails. For heavy duty or larger frames (such as for queen- and king-sized beds), the bed frame also includes a center support rail. These rails are assembled to create a box for the mattress or mattress/box spring to sit on.
Types of bed frames include:
- platform – typically used without a box spring
- captain – has drawers beneath the frame to make use of the space between the floor and the bed frame
- waterbed – a heavy-duty frame built specifically to support the weight of the water in the mattress (Mainly used on larger models)
Though not truly parts of a bed frame, headboards, footboards, and bed rails can be included in the definition. Headboards and footboards can be wood or metal. They can be stained, painted, or covered in fabric or leather.
Bed rails are made of wood or metal and are attached to a headboard and footboard. Wooden slats are placed perpendicular to the bed rails to support the mattress/mattress box spring.
Bed rails and frames are often attached to the bed post using knock-down fittings. A knock-down fitting enables the bed to be easily dismantled for removal. Primary knock-down fittings for bed rails are as follows:
- Pin-and-hook fastener. A mortise or slot is cut vertically in the bedpost. Pins are inserted horizontally in the bed post so that the pins perpendicularly intersect the mortise. For example, if one looked in the mortise, one might see part of one horizontal pin at the bottom of the mortise and a part of a second pin toward the top of the mortise. Hooks are installed at the end of the rail. Usually these hooks are part of a plate that is attached to the rail. The hooks then are inserted into the bed post mortise and hook over the pins.
- Plate-and-hook fastener. Instead of pins inserted horizontally into the bedpost, an eye plate (post plate) is installed on the bedpost. The hooks are installed on the rail, either as surface mount or recessed. Depending on the hardware, the bedpost may require a mortise in order to allow the hooks to fasten to the plate. This is also referred to as a keyhole fastener, especially if the connector is more of a “plug” than a “hook”.
- Bed bolts (“through-bolts”) are a different means of a knock-down connection. A hole is typically drilled through the bedpost. The bolt head is inset and covered with a plug. In the rail, a dowel nut or other type of nut receives the bolt.
New bed styles appear every day, but all beds are a basic flat surface designed to keep the occupants comfortable for many hours.