The history of the water bed can be traced back more than 3,000 years to the Persians. They made bag-like or bubble-like containers from goat skins or goatskin by gluing them with pitch. Originally, these goat skin containers served nomadic peoples initially purely as a water reservoir until they were recognized as being useful as a comfortable sleeping surface. The advantage of the goat skin mattresses filled with water was that on the one hand they were firm enough to be able to lie on and on the other hand they were soft or flexible enough to be able to perceive lying on them as comfortable and relaxing. So when it comes to answering the question “When was the first waterbed available?”, One can certainly take a look back at the pre-Christian era.
It is said that Alexander the Great resided in Nebuchadnezzar’s ancient palace after he was appointed ruler of the four corners of the world by the Babylonians. The brick building, resembling a labyrinth, with more than 500 chambers was heated so much by the sun that you could hardly find peace at night. The goat skin sleeping pads were therefore filled with fresh, cold spring water in order to benefit from a cooling effect and still be able to get some sleep.
The goat skin mattresses were also used “the other way around”. – In the colder months of the year, they were placed in the sun during the day so that the water inside could heat up. In this way you could bed yourself on a comfortable heat source at night.
In 1830 the Scottish doctor Neil Arnott (1788-1874) developed a hydrostatic bed, which is also known as the Nayade, Arnott’s bed or floating mattress. However, this was not a bed for everyday use, but a piece of medical furniture for use as a nursing home bed. An essential part of Arnott’s bed was a water container, which was covered with a water-repellent rubber cloth. In the middle of the 19th century the bed was used in some English hospitals for long-term bedridden people, where the hydrostatic positioning was supposed to prevent bedsores (decubitus, ulcer) due to its pressure-relieving effect.
In 1851 the British doctor William Hooper invented an invalid water mattress, which was also intended for nursing and which he patented. Hooper’s invention already had a clearer resemblance to today’s hardside waterbed (Freeflow). It consisted of a delimiting, box-like construction made of wood and a rubber bladder filled with water.
Queen Victoria’s personal physician – Sir James Paget – introduced the waterbed developed by Arnott in 1873 at St. Bartholomew Hospital in London. Paget was convinced of the water bed as a “(…) new invention to aid in the practice of medicine and surgery (…)” and published his publication on it almost all over the world.
In the 1880s, the first patent for a waterbed was issued to a medic from Portsmouth. This doctor wanted his patients to float more or less on the surface of his invented bed, so that there would be a lower pressure load than with an ordinary mattress. However, his version of the waterbed could not prevail because it was rejected by the users, which was due to the fact that the waterbed was a) freezing cold and b) leaking.
In 1885 the first mass-produced waterbeds could be found in the mail order catalog of the English department store Harrods, although these had hardly anything in common with our current waterbeds in terms of material and design. It was probably more like a giant hot water bottle.
In Germany around 1900 a “water bed for the prevention of pressure ulcers” was presented by the Berlin doctor CA Ewald. This bed, consisting of a liquid tank loosely covered with a waterproof rubber membrane, was not dissimilar to that of Arnott.
The fact that the waterbeds and water mattresses invented to date could not really prevail was due in particular to the fact that the available materials and manufacturing processes were still inadequate or not fully developed.
Modern waterbeds have their origin in the 1960s and are traced back to the American design student Charles Hall. As part of a school project in San Francisco in 1968, Hall initially developed an armchair made of vinyl filled with starch, which, however, was not convincing due to its high weight and lack of comfort. For this reason, he first replaced the starch filling with a gelatin filling, which significantly improved the comfort of his chair, but the weight was still far too high. Furthermore, the gelatine in the armchair tended to dissolve, so that Hall also rejected this idea. Charles Hall then devoted himself to the development of a waterbed and soon had success with the implementation. He realized that heating was essential for such a sleeping system and came up with a suitable solution for this as well. Hall founded Innerspace Environments with a focus on the manufacture and sale of waterbeds. At that time, Charles Hall was the market leader in the USA with his company, which comprised 30 stores.
However, Charles Hall was denied patenting his waterbed. In the 1940s, the American science fiction author Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988) had already written extensively about such a waterbed in several of his works. The patent office determined that the waterbed was an “already culturally described” object and thus the state of the art, which spoke against patenting. Heinlein, who had to spend a lot of time in uncomfortable hospital beds due to illness (tuberculosis) in the mid-1930s, incorporated his ideal of a floating bed into his novels in detail. The author had given far-reaching thoughts and among other things Even safety aspects such as protection against electric shock or static factors such as the calculation of the floor load are taken into account. The waterbed is mentioned in detail in these novels by Robert A. Heinlein: Utopia 2300 (1948, Beyond This Horizon – published under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald), Ein Doppelleben im Kosmos (1955, Double Star) and A Man in a Strange World or Stranger in a Strange Land (1961, Stranger in a Strange Land).
The new waterbeds with their “wobbly surface” were particularly popular with hippies and playboys who wanted a chic alternative to the usual sleeping places of the 1960s, which is perfectly summed up by the provocative slogan of an advertising campaign at the time for the purchase of a waterbed: “Two things are nicer in a waterbed. One of them is sleep. ”
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Hall waterbed was an absolute symbol of the Californian lifestyle, which is why Charles Hall was able to market his invented sleep system extremely profitably despite the lack of a patent.
In the meantime, water beds have become established, with the hall-based hard-side water bed being largely replaced by the so-called soft-side water beds (more on this: Types of water beds).
Thanks to modern materials and optimized manufacturing processes, water-based sleep systems are now available that are convincing in terms of both comfort and functionality as well as durability.
The question “Who invented the waterbed?” Cannot be answered clearly. It should be noted, however, that the waterbeds – as we know, use and appreciate them today – were significantly shaped by Charles Hall. The extent to which Hall was influenced by Robert A. Heinlein when it was invented or developed cannot be understood.