Categories: Mattress

The History of Latex Mattresses

Here’s a story of a man named Murphy who used his wife’s kitchen cake mixer to make something other than a cake …

Now before getting into that, because latex is an organic, natural product, we need to start off with explaining exactly where latex comes from.

The Rubber Tree (Hevea Brasiliensis)

Latex mattresses are constructed from the milk or sap from a rubber tree. This rubber tree is known as Hevea brasiliensis. This tree has a major economic significance because its milky latex is the primary source of many things made out of natural rubber (gloves, catheters, balloons, condoms, hoses, belts, and swim caps), not just latex mattresses.

Where the Rubber Tree is Found

The Hevea brasiliensis tree specimens were first discovered by a French expedition in South America. They were then exported (in huge quantities) for use on rubber plantations in Asia.

The Hevea Brasiliensis tree needs an abundance of rainfall, hot temperatures, high humidity, and absolutely no frost. Therefore, not surprisingly,  it is largely found in tropical climates.

Purdue University reports that Java, Sumatra, Malaysia Indochina/Thailand and Sri Lanka have been major producers of latex. The tropical rain forests of South America, in addition to India, Equatorial Africa, Sarawak, and Burma produce smaller quantities of latex.

Today, most of the world’s natural rubber (nearly 75 percent) comes from plantations in Malaysia, Thailand, and  Indonesia.

Roots to Colonialism and Indigenous People

Through the history of the Hevea brasiliensis tree, disease existed in its native Brazilian habitat, making harvesting challenging. That said, disease strains were eliminated roughly 200 years ago to free these concentrated areas of disease. They have since thrived in the tropical climates of Asia.

Colonialism and an indigenous society are part of latex history, as rubber plantations overshadowed traditional means of farming and means of making a living. Today, local communities who desire entrepreneurship and free trade are operating sustainable rubber estates, where indigenous populations are making a living with its extraction.

The Link to Latex Mattresses and a Kitchen Cake Mixer

Latex wasn’t used to make foam until the 1920s. E.A. Murphy, a British scientist for the Dunlop company, is thought to be credited for producing the first latex foam in the late 1920s. While this opened the possibility for latex mattress construction, it took five years of study and research (along with mishaps and failed attempts) before it was figured out how to create the bubbles needed to produce a latex mattress. Eventually, latex mattress construction evolved into the Dunlop and Talalay processes we know of today.

How did this discovery happen? All it took was a thinking out-of-the-box moment when Murphy thought to use of his wife’s cake mixer to whip up latex instead of cake batter.

While it’s believed that Murphy’s cohorts were not particularly impressed with his discovery, that soon changed when his colleagues saw the incredible cushioning and shaping the foam latex rubber concoction could achieve.

The cake-mixer whipped latex become a huge success, and quickly become used in such things as seat cushions in motorcycles and cars, and later airplane cockpit seats. Then, as early as 1931, the first latex mattress was introduced.  In addition to comfort, the initial latex mattress was marketed as a mattress that saved time because it didn’t need to be flipped or fluffed.

And that’s how thousands-upon-thousands of people are now realizing the benefits of sleeping on a natural latex mattress and getting the best night’s sleep of their lives.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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