When our ancestors tucked in their children with the wish, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” they weren’t speaking metaphorically. The tightly woven ropes that held a mattress in place, laced in a lattice pattern, would stretch and sag with use and had to be periodically pulled taut. Bedbugs, of course, were all too common sleeping partners—as they are becoming again. Cast-iron and brass bed frames were developed because they proved less hospitable to insects than wood. Brass beds also had the advantage—which some savvy manufacturers advertised—of being easier to disassemble and reassemble for regular de-bedbugging of the mattress and linens.
What we might recognize as a mattress first appeared in the Roman Empire, where the wealthy slept in beds decorated with gold, silver or bronze and topped with mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool, reeds or hay.
But moths were the least of our ancestors’ bedtime worries. In addition to bedbugs, fleas, mice and rats were regular nocturnal visitors. Some people took all their shoes to bed with them at night, to throw at rats that came too close.
- Louis XIV of France owned more than 400 beds and often held court in the royal bedroom.
- Science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein designed a water bed while a hospital patient in the 1930s, but never attempted to market his invention
- On the “I Love Lucy” TV show, Ricky and Lucy slept in twin beds that were pushed together on the same box spring for the first two seasons. After “little Ricky” was born, CBS ordered the beds separated.
- San Francisco State University student Charles Prior Hall invented the modern water bed, which he called “the pleasure pit.” He first tried filling it with cornstarch, then Jell-O