The History of the Sleeper Sofa

What did we do before sleeper sofas? This handy piece of furniture has come a long way indeed.

How Sleeper Sofas Have Gotten So Much Better

Leonard C. Bailey, a black inventor in the 1800s, received the first patent for a folding bed frame in 1899. Since then, the sleeper sofa has come a long way. We have seen a center-folding, metal frame and mattress, the Murphy bed, futons, and now, a sofa sleeper of 2019 that doesn’t require the removal of cushions before the bed glides out of the couch.

Leonard C. Bailey and the U.S. Army

The first foldable frame/mattress combo was a far cry from fitting into a couch, nor could it be called decorative. However, when the United States Army medical board, got wind of Leonard C. Bailey’s invention, they purchased and mass-produced the design. It was perfect for soldiers who were in campers all day.

William Murphy and his Pivot Bed

In his one-room apartment in 1908, William Murphy didn’t have much room to entertain guests. And so, the pivot bed was born. Murphy creating a system of hinges that attached to a headboard, or head of the bed, and would flip the bed into a space in the wall. This mechanism gave Murphy plenty of room to entertain, and as of this date, someone can still purchase a Murphy bed or make a murphy bed by purchasing the equipment at murphybeds.com.

Bernard Castro, Italian Furniture designer

Bernard Castro immigrated to the United States in 1919. He had a fascination with New York City’s MoMa and spent much of his spare time examining the furniture art displays. By 1931, Castro started to build a brand of sleeper sofas that retained the aesthetic of a couch without sacrificing style.

While the Castro family sold the company in 1993, the modern-day sofa sleepers haven’t changed much since the mid-nineteenth century, the new technology focuses on making an easier pull-out and adding a more comfortable mattress, but Castro’s enterprise has left us excited for the dual purpose sleeper.

The 50s and Dual Purpose Products

The mid-1950s had manufacturers focusing on style and multi-functionality. The importance of the sleeper sofa was so ubiquitous that the editor of Bedding magazine (an industry magazine), had Francis Seng, president of the Seng Co. (a furniture hardware company) write an op-ed piece explaining the importance, the difference, and rationales of multi-functional furniture. In it, he claimed, “There has been a growing tendency among manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and editors and writers to ignore the proper designations of dual-purpose sleeping equipment. . . . If this habit of miscalling merchandise is continued . . . it could lead to trouble.”

By 1960, Bedding magazine was a big advocate of this movement changing their tagline to “Exclusively Devoted to Manufacturers of Bedding and Dual Purpose Sleeping Equipment.” The tagline remained prominent until 1970.

The Sofa Sleepers of 2019

While sofa sleepers have undergone a facelift for style and manufacturers have found better ways to make a foldable mattress more comfortable, the overall framework continues to remain structured similarly back from 1899. The hinges have been updated, and people sleeping on the sleeper sofa may not feel the bar in their backs any longer, but without the invention of Leonard C. Bailey, sofa sleepers may not have been part of the couch's history.

Resources— BedTimes MagazineHow Stuff Works, HouzzSun-Sentinel, Super Comfy Sleep