I’m often asked about what type of mattresses were used on beds back in the 1800’s. After a discussion of feather mattresses……their advantages and disadvantages, the topic invariably turns to what man used before conventional mattresses were used on bed frames. It is thought that during the Crusades, Europeans adopted the Arabic method of sleeping on cushions thrown on the floor, and the word materas eventually descended into Middle English through the Romance languages.
Though a mattress may be placed directly on the floor, it is usually placed on top of a bed base to be farther from the ground. Hence the popularity and practicality of antique iron beds, that elevated the mattress more than a foot off the floor level and away fro drafts.Prior to the use of metal bed frames, the bed base was often solid, as in the case of a platform bed, or elastic, e.g. with an upholstered wood and wire box spring or a slatted foundation. Flexible bed bases can prolong the life of the mattress. Popular in Europe, a divan incorporates both mattress and foundation in a single upholstered, footed unit. Divans have at least one innerspring layer as well as cushioning materials. They may be sold with a secondary mattress and/or a removable “topper.”
Early mattresses contained a variety of natural materials including straw, feathers or horse hair. In the first half of the 20th century, a typical mattress sold in North America had an innerspring core and cotton batting or fiberfill. Modern mattresses usually contain either an inner springcore or materials such as latex, viscoelastic or other flexible polyurethane foams. Other fill components include insulator pads over the coils that prevent the bed’s upholstery layers from cupping down into the innerspring, as well as polyester fiberfill in the bed’s top upholstery layers. Mattresses may also be filled with air or water, or a variety of natural fibers, such as in futons. In Southeast Asia, bedding is made withKapok. In 1901 the English bed maker VI-Spring introduced the first ever individually wrapped pocketed spring coil mattress.
The typical mattress sold in North America today is an innerspring; however interest in all-foam beds and so-called hybrid beds—which include an innerspring plus high-end foams, such as visco-elastic or latex, in the comfort layers—is increasing. In Europe, polyurethane foam cores and latex cores have long been popular and make up a much larger proportion of the mattresses sold.
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