If you ever wondered why there are so many bed sizes, you might be surprised to find out there were many more sizes in older times.
The Great Bed of Ware, presently in the Victoria & Albert Museum London, may be the largest and most famous bed in history—mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This massive bed was manufactured for the White Hart Inn, Ware England and is made from carved oak around 1590 and it measures 128” wide and 133” long and has a top canopy height 105” or 10’ x 11’ and slept four couples.
A question may arise: Why would “four couples” be sleeping in a single, large bed? The answer may come as a surprise—but prior to the mid-1800s the concept of having your own bed was nearly impossible and probably unheard of especially in hotels and inns. It was standard practice to “accommodate” many people, complete strangers to each other together into a room and bed. The term “strange bedfellows” coined by Shakespeare The Tempest , as you may now see, was, in reality, quite a likely experience when traveling. Even in the United States, many of our founding fathers had to share hotel bedrooms and beds when they came to serve in Congress in Washington, DC; there were no expense accounts for private hotel rooms and there wasn’t enough hotel space.
DEMOCRATIZATION OF SLEEP “PERSONALIS SPATIUM”
In today’s world, we have an abundant variety of bed and mattress types in sizes and individual space (singulus spatium) for everyone. The USA still uses inches and feet to measure just about everything that I will discuss—but even in Europe and parts of Asia both inches and centimeters are still in use concurrently. Japan, for example, uses metric dimensions for a mattress but they express the coil height in inches—due to a marketing reason to indicate the coil invention is from America. UK offers both inch and centimeter sizes based on the age of a bed frame (antique furniture was probably made in inches and feet). It can be confusing.
The Metric System never was implemented in the United States due to the bad fate of Joseph Dombey’s ill-fated voyage to America on the Soon. He was coming to meet Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and members of Congress who were eagerly awaiting the brass prototype standards for the meter and the kilogram he was bringing. His voyage began January 17, 1794, but the ship was first blown off course towards the south and later it was captured by pirates. Dombey died in a prison cell and the precious cargo never reached Jefferson. You may read the whole story Measuring America authored by Andro Linklater, Walker Press, 2002. With no metric standard, America could wait no longer and an Act of Congress in 1796 created America’s very first standard of measure: Gunter’s 22 Yard Chain based on the ancient English system of 16-1/2 feet=1 perch and 4 perches or rods in a chain. The ship Soon was late and Dombey’s fate was a dumb wrinkle in American history that affects us today. American townships, roads, city parks, and every parcel of land was surveyed, documented, deeded and sold using the 22-yard standard. American beds and mattress sizes would forever be measured in inches.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
When I went to work at Simmons Company factory on Jones Avenue in Atlanta back in the 1970s, I was confronted with a confusing bit of terminology that I had to quickly learn. Mattress sizes were generally simple: twin size, full size, queen size, and king size. But industry jargon within the factory might refer to a twin size as a “single size”, or a “3-3 (meaning 3’3” or 39” width), or, in Simmons case a “-1-“ (the digit meaning a twin. A full size might be called a “double” or a “4-6” (4’6” or 54” width) or a “-2-“. There were “twin extra long” box springs where two were used side by side under a King Mattress—but there were other mattresses called “twin extra long” also called “twin XL” or “twin long boys” that were 79-1/2” lengths instead of 74-1/2”. There were “full extra longs” or “double XL” that were popular in hotels—also 79-1/2” length. It can be a confusing mix—especially when factory workers, managers, sales people, retail sales people, and consumers may all have a different term for the same item.
EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN BEDDING SIZES
Having researched American products—which includes a true concept of E Pluribus Unum—because American immigrants came to the United States with their own local customs and measuring systems that had to eventually blend into a common structure. Beds have been around thousands of years—so not as easy to change—as something new like an automobile or a radio.
For a period of time that stretches back nearly 100 years, mattresses and box springs made and sold in the United States have evolved to several “standard” sizes. Manufacturers generally produce these products with tolerances of + or – 1/2.” As reported in International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) Annual Report of 2015— the various American sizes and percentage of sales in 2015 were as follows:
Twin Size (Single) 38” x 74-1/2” 20.5%
Twin XL Size (Twin Long) 38” x 79-1/2” 1.7%
Full Size (Double) 53” x 74-1/2” 16.6%
Full XL Size (Full Long) 53” x 79-1/2” 0.6%
Queen Size (Standard) 60” x 79-1/2” 41.0%
King Size (Eastern King) 76” x 79-1/2”` 14.2%
California King Size (Western King) 72” x 84” 1.4%
All other sizes were considered “odd sizes”. Waterbed sizes were available in twin, queen, and king—but were all 84” lengths.
In retrospect, looking back to the 1970s—the majority of the mattress business sales were twin and full sizes. Queen size and king sizes were introduced in the late 1950s, were growing but were only about 22% and 8% respectively. Waterbeds were introduced in the mid 1970s and by 1988 had become 1/3 of the US market—and waterbeds were queen and California king sizes (84” length due to standard lumber sizes for the wood frame). Through waterbed growth and the deliberate thrust of the mattress industry to sell larger sizes market has shifted towards larger sizes by creating the best value in queen sizes—beds have gotten bigger.
Price focus also changed. Forty years ago twin sizes were the featured advertised price in ads and catalogs—each piece; this shifted to queen mattress prices, then queen set pricing (mattress and foundation) when the CFR 1633 Open Flame Mattress Standard became effective in 2007. Today, probably attributed to the dominant trend of “on-line” bedding from Amazon and the likes—mattress prices are usually sold as each piece. Set pricing is still popular in “brick & mortar” stores.
A CONJECTURE ON HOW TERMS CAME TO BE
The evidence for standard terminology comes from bedding ephemera—the trove of paper catalogs, brochures, advertising pieces, trade cards, patents, and other documents. It is pretty much impossible to be as absolute as the Oxford- English Dictionary as to when a term began—but we can try.
First let’s understand that before wire spring systems came into use—mattresses stuffed with cotton, wool, horse hair, moss, excelsior (wood shavings), kapok, sisal, or other natural materials could be easily custom produced in any size a consumer desired because all it required was sewing a casing large enough and filling and closing it shut.
However, the textile looms used for making mattress ticking had limitations. The widths of 41” to 54” selvedge-to-selvedge may have also been a determining factor in mattress sizes. Spring diameters fixed in an array or network dictated size standards that were used as box spring bases for the mattresses may have also determined the mass produced mattress sizes.
Apart from the technical limitations of ticking and box springs, the practical factor would be considering the average width of a human body and how much space is needed to sleep. Sleeping comfortably with more space didn’t come along until about 1960.
Double sizes, also called 4-6 or full go back to the 1800s. The ephemera records shows all of these terminologies used interchangeably. The average human body is probably about 17” wide in a supine position. The double size being 54” wide gives 27” for each person, hence double for at least two persons.
Today’s Single size morphed from a variety of smaller sizes that will be seen in ephemera records. Commonly called 3-3 in catalogs and advertising, the 39” width became the standard. The terminology “Twin Size” is used in a Frank Hall (NYC) catalog of 1886. Simmons Company featured a bedroom set with two beds in a 1921 magazine ad; the copy read “Nearly everyone these days is putting Twin Beds into rooms shared by two persons. One sleeper does not disturb the other, or communicate colds or other infections.”
Simmons Company advertised a “Twin Long Boy” in the early 1960s—this being a 39” wide x 79-1/2” long mattress; there is not any evidence, so far, of that term or size prior to that advertisement, so I suppose the Twin XL or Super Single was created by Simmons Company as a result of the king box spring set which was two 39” x 79-1/2” box springs. and, that, those size mattresses were a line extension.
Queen and King sizes were formally introduced in the late 1950s and most mattress companies began to offer and advertise them. The queen size being 60” wide expanded the sleeping space per person from 27” to 30”. King sizes were 76” wide so the sleeping space became 38” for two people. The entire bedding industry began to push the larger sizes and making the queen size the standard size.
Ephemera records from the 1800s illustrate many bed spring makers offered products 5’ (60”) wide bed bases of various lengths and there are depictions of two single sized beds and mattress connected in a similar fashion as contemporary king size bed frame.
Three Quarter Bed is 48” wide x 75” long. It was a popular size in the 1800s but did not “make the cut” to standardization—probably because it was too wide for one person and two narrow for two.
In modern Japan, for example, mattress sizes offered are single, semi-double (“three quarter”), double, queen, and king—but all the lengths are 195cm—but the coil heights are in inches. Some UK bed companies may use metric, inches, and descriptive terms like “single”,“double” and “king”—all interchangeably on the same page! In fact, nearly every country in the world has their own set of dimension standards based on cultural and architectural preferences.
A CROSS-SECTION OF AMERICAN EPHEMERA HISTORY
Hartford Woven Wire Mattress Company, (1880), was founded 1867 and by 1880 had shipped 250,000 woven wire mattress bed bottoms across the country.
All of their woven wire mattress products were available in the following sizes:
4’ (48”) – 4’6” (54” x 6’3” (75’) length
4’7” (55”) x “ “ “
4’8” (56”) x “ “ “
4’9” (57”) x “ “ “
4’10” (58”) x “ “ “
4’11” (59”) x “ “ “
5” (60”) x “ “ “ (same width as modern “queen” size)
In a Hartford Woven Wire bill dated September 1895 they manufactured:
4’ (48”) x 6’ (72”) Aetna Mattress
4’6” (54”) x 6’3” (75”) No. 605 Iron Bed
4’6” (54”) x 6’3” (75”) No. 562 Iron Bed
Manning, Glover & Clark, (1843) Boston
Manufactured “1 Best Hair (horse hair) Mattress 35-1/2” x 2” (6’2”=64”) for $11.83
Harrisburg Woven Wire Mattress Company, (1892), established in 1885 by Charles S. Boll and John W. Boll manufactured woven wire mattress bed bases, coil spring bed bases, and an array of upholstered cotton and other type of mattresses.
Their Curled Hair Mattresses (page 21 of the 1892 catalog) came in various qualities were 3’ (36”, 3’6” (42”), 4’ (48”, and 4’6” (54”) widths all by 6’2” lengths (74”).
W. S. Fogg & Son, (1880), New York was a wholesale dealer and jobber in bedding supplies to a small manufacturing base across the USA.
On page 20 of the 1880 catalog they offered five standard sizes of the Howe Improved Bed Spring including a 5’ (60”) width.
On Page 34-35 they offered models 2742 and 2857 all brass bedsteads in for widths: 3’6” (38”), 4’ (48”), 4’6” (54”), and 5’ (60”) and all were standard 6’6” (78”) lengths.
Ostermoor & Company, (1881) was founded in 1858 and was America’s largest manufacturer of cotton, hair and other vegetation materials mattresses. Similar sizes to the above plus an array of narrower widths, Ostermoor also offered an extra large size such as displayed in an 1890 catalog supplement:
Ostermoor Palace Bed 4’6” (54”) wide x 6’6” long (78”)
Frank A. Hall, New York, (1883), New York. Hall was a supplier of components to small, local cabinet and furniture makers and upholsterers around the country and a retail client base in New York City.
Their 1883 catalog (pages 14-25/0 offered a wide range of woven wire mattress bases and spring bases in various width up to 60” width (modern queen size).
The catalog offered several large metal beds:
English Model D. 5728 Superior Iron Half Tester Bed 6’6” (78”) x 6’3” (75”)
No. C 2175 Iron Bedstead 4’6” (54”) x 6’6”(78”).
Hall published a small supplement catalog in 1886; on page 7 they offered a Bushnell Spring Bed base that was 5’ (60”) x 6’4” (76”). This was getting closer to the contemporary American queen
Marshall Field & Co. (1906), published a bed and mattress catalog for retail consumers.
Pages 1-11 offered multiple styles of iron and brass bedsteads, generally in four standard widths: 3’ (36”), 3’6” (38”), 4’ (48”), and 4’6” (54”) and all were 6’6” (78”) in length.