MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: InnoMax Corporation gives us an idea of their journey into and through their success in the specialty sleep category

Longtime SSA Member InnoMax® Corporation, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, is our Member Spotlight feature this month.  We asked them to send us a company summary, and give us an idea of the steps it took to get them where they are today.  Here is their write-up.

Today one of the largest sleep products manufacturers in the industry, InnoMax was originally founded in 1975 as Rocky Mountain Inflate-A-Bed.  InnoMax began its 43 year journey in a very modest fashion. Knowing there was a better way to sleep than on a set of cold steel springs, founder Tom Lavezzi filled his van with basic vinyl air mattresses and began visiting local bedding retailers to promote the idea of air suspension sleep. Early success offered encouragement, but the “butt-seam” construction on the mattresses proved to be less than ideal for daily use. Necessity is the mother of invention, so to keep the airbed business afloat, waterbed sealing technology was used to repair the air mattresses. This quickly led to adding a complete line of waterbed products to the mix, allowing retailers to join in the specialty sleep boom of the 1970’s. With each new challenge, a product design was improved and more new ideas were brought to life. The company name was changed to InnoMax due to the company’s “Maximum Innovation” mission for product evolution and development.

Waterbeds are ALIVE and well at InnoMax

Waterbeds are ALIVE and well at InnoMax

InnoMax was proud to be a part of the early days of the airbed and waterbed revolution. The company moved to larger facilities and expanded production into all aspects of specialty sleep. With the fervor of the waterbed craze, all types of alternative sleep systems were gaining in popularity, including adjustable airbeds. Soon memory foam and natural latex would join the category and then variations of all types were created.

InnoMax decided long ago to get direct feedback from the consumer to offer real time information to help their dealer network successfully promote these non-traditional products. The retail sales associate in a specialty sleep showroom had to have an immense amount of product knowledge and training to help consumers understand the benefits of specialty sleep products. The specialty mattress and bedding sales floor could not simply be a “pick one and we’ll deliver it Saturday” kind of experience. The products were complex and needed to be explained. In order to assist dealers to be better promoters, InnoMax remodeled some warehouse space and created a testing environment called the Retail Laboratory in Denver, armed with market-tested products, sales presentations and marketing strategies. If the innovative products could be effectively sold in a warehouse district far away from high-end malls, then InnoMax was confident the dealers would find success as well. The term “Hard to Find and Tough to Beat” became a marketing slogan for these products and the great benefits and high values offered to the consumer who searched them out.

The Denver Retail Laboratory

The Denver Retail Laboratory

Effective marketing campaigns were also tested in the Laboratory. For instance, to promote a product with a less-than-favorable set of beliefs surrounding it, a new approach was developed. The company replaced the high energy “Mattress Man” advertising with trustworthy local celebrities whose love of flotation sleep broke down the barriers and myths, and paved the way for a whole new generation of consumers eager to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of sleeping on a waterbed. The company created the name “Mud Bed” to alter the perception many consumers had with the term “waterbed”. Customer after customer would enter the showroom asking to see the famous Mud Bed, not really knowing it was a waterbed. Only after the customer had reclined on the bed to enjoy the relaxing massage and video presentation, would the sleep consultant reveal the true identity of what they were experiencing. The looks of shock and ear-to-ear smiles on the consumer reinforced the viability of this sleep option.

Mark Miller, SSA Chairman and InnoMax CEO

Mark Miller, SSA Chairman and InnoMax CEO

Based upon the premise that air and water can be refined to create some of the most comfortable and exciting products produced to date, InnoMax continues to develop both categories. Mark Miller, InnoMax President/CEO and current Specialty Sleep Association Chairman, continues to focus on product innovation.  One example is the InnoMax Waterbed Day Bed, called the Seaside youth bed, with all six drawers facing one side. This design created a new space saving bed that would fit in smaller rooms yet provide ultimate storage and comfort. They introduced Convert-A-Fit linens that wouldn’t come off until you took them off, solving some customer complaints with early waterbeds. Wooden waterbed frames moved over for the InnoMax Frame Free Sponge Bed. The creation of the Drain Hero Waterbed Maintenance Kit brought long term flotation owner’s the benefit of easy mobility with an electric drain pump and all the accessories needed to move a waterbed without hassle. The Convert-A-Bed modular support system allows each side of the bed to be adjusted to the individual sleepers own comfort level with the choice of Memory Cell, Latex, InnoCoils, Fluid or Air suspension. InnoMax’s latest development is the fully assembled Rolled N’ Ready Freedom Air system that allow dealers to drop ship, directly to the consumer, a fully assembled air bed that is plug-and-go instantly.

Many adjustable bed choices

Many adjustable bed choices

Maximum Innovation is still alive and well at InnoMax. The fast paced heyday of the waterbed may be long gone, but the benefits of specialty sleep are very much alive. In their never ending quest to provide sleepers with the best rest of their life, InnoMax continues to usher in specialty sleep products that offer their dealers a competitive advantage with unique selling propositions, and innovative sleep solutions that allow today’s consumers to enjoy the amazing benefits of specialty sleep for a healthier and happier lifestyle.

 It takes a real passion to love an aardvark, but at InnoMax, the idea of being different just means being better.

This is just one of the fun videos you’ll find on the InnoMax site - click above to watch

This is just one of the fun videos you’ll find on the InnoMax site - click above to watch

The Squishiest, Sweetest Sleep

The inventor of the water bed is reprising and updating it for a Casper world.
By Penelope Green for the New York Times Dec. 6, 2018

The original design for the water bed by Charles Hall. Credit via Charles Hall

The original design for the water bed by Charles Hall. Credit via Charles Hall

He used Jell-O and cornstarch at first, but the squashy gunk, poured into a vinyl bladder, was too heavy to move. And it began to stink after a few days. Then he tried water. “Rancid Jell-O Led to First Water Bed,” a newspaper headline proclaimed at the time.

It was 1967, the Summer of Love, and Charles Hall, a student at San Francisco State University, was experimenting with flotation furniture, as he called it then, for an engineering class. (He got an “A.”) The following year, after some tweaks, his eight-foot-square heated “Pleasure Pit” debuted at a gallery on Leavenworth Street, as part of a show called “The Happy Happening.”

Mr. Hall was living in Haight-Ashbury, in an apartment in a listing Victorian that rented for $67. It was August, a slow news cycle, Mr. Hall recalled, and the Pleasure Pit made news around the country.

It was Mr. Hall’s idea that the contraption was both bed and chair, the only piece of furniture you’d ever need. Mattress companies rebuffed him in those early days, as did department stores, so he sold it himself, using his Rambler station wagon to deliver beds to local head shops, a member of Jefferson Airplane, a Smothers brother (he can’t remember which), a nudist colony (which bought two) and, inevitably, Hugh Hefner, who ordered one for the Playboy Mansion, upholstered in green velvet.

“I think it got a lot of use there,” Mr. Hall said. But he himself was no sybarite; he was earnest about his invention’s benefits: how weightlessness contributed to health and well-being. “I was trying to make a better sleep experience,” he said.

Eventually Mr. Hall and a partner found investors, and their company, Innerspace Environments, opened more than 30 stores throughout California. Though Mr. Hall patented his heated, lined version, which he sold on a sturdy redwood frame, there were many, many imitators, offering cheaply made, leak-prone knockoffs for a fraction of the cost. The first “Pleasure Bed,” as Mr. Hall called his model, went for $350.

Mr. Hall remembered one shady seller whose product line also included “orgy butter” and fake theological doctoral degrees. There were rumors of electrocutions, and floors collapsing from the weight of all that water pouring out of defective mattresses (a king-size bed might weigh as much as 2,300 pounds, some newspapers reported); landlords got the jimjams. (In New York City, they remain leery: Most standard leases still contain a “no-water-bed rider,” said Zach Gutierrez, a consultant at Cityrealty.com, which collects real estate data.)

Sweet dreams: Charles Hall, the inventor of the water bed, on an Afloat Water Bed in his home on Bainbridge Island, Wash.  Credit  Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

Sweet dreams: Charles Hall, the inventor of the water bed, on an Afloat Water Bed in his home on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Credit Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

By 1975, Mr. Hall’s company was in bankruptcy, not because of the competition, he said, but rather mismanagement by his investors, and he had moved on to other ventures like solar showers, inflatable kayaks and camping mattresses.

The water bed evolved nonetheless, shaking off its sleazy associations as a lame sexual prop and sight gag. By 1984, Waterbed Magazine fretted that its customers were aging, “edging toward the 40-year old category.” In 1986, according to the Waterbed Manufacturers Association, water bed sales reached nearly $2 billion — between 12 and 15 percent of the American mattress market — and retailers like Waterbed City, based in South Florida, were making millions of dollars.

While Mr. Hall was always touted as the father of the industry, he did not share in those riches, though he continued to advise a number of companies, and to design improvements to the original product, as did others. Gone were the shin-nicking wooden frames, and the early sloshings, as water beds went waveless and mainstream, encased in soft-edged mattress forms that looked just like their coil-filled cousins.

You could buy baby water beds, and suites of water bed furniture, including one wince-making number in dark wood paneling, the “Captain Pedestal,” that looked like a high boy married to a schooner.

By 1991, one of every five mattresses sold was a water bed. That same year, Mr. Hall won a lawsuit against a Taiwanese manufacturer for patent infringement. A jury awarded him $4.8 million, plus interest, which he shared with investors who had chipped in for his legal fees. “It was about the principle of the thing more than anything else,” he said.

‘They Last Forever’

Yet only a few years later, water beds had lost their luster. Traditional mattress companies figured out how to approximate the comforts of a water bed with pillow tops and foam, and most people turned away, though there were stalwarts who clung to their vinyl oddities like gear heads with an eight-track.

Water-bed manufacturers found other markets, like dairy-cow farmers, who had discovered that the soft structures protect their generally prone animals’ joints (dairy cows do their best work lying down). Wistful articles began to appear about the dwindling number of water-bed salesmen, and their loyal, aging customers. Last year, someone started a GoFundMe campaign to buy a bed from a dealer in Tampa, Fla., who was planning to shutter his 46-year-old business, raising $167.

One staunch holdout is Roland Formica, who opened his water-bed business, Odds-N-Ends, just north of Berkeley, Calif., in 1969 (he also sold antiques, leather goods and head shop accouterments). Though he closed his physical storefront in 2016, he continues to sell water beds online, nearly 50 this year, along with parts.

“A lonely soldier,” is how Allen Salkin, a New York Times reporter who had grown up on a water bed (a bar mitzvah present, and it vibrated), described Mr. Formica in a 2003 profile. (Six years ago, Mr. Salkin broke down and bought a water bed from Mr. Formica for his Lower East Side apartment; it is currently for sale, however, since his girlfriend has vetoed its move to their new home in California.)

“If I sell you a bed,” Mr. Formica said the other day, “you’re not going to need another for 10 or 15 years. They last forever. Who the hell would go into a business like that? It’s a predicament.”

On a recent stormy afternoon, Mr. Hall, now 75, sat in the glassy living room of his pristine bungalow on Bainbridge Island, Wash., overlooking Puget Sound and showed off his water-bed scrapbook, a kitschy trove of vintage print media.

There were brochures for Innerspace Environments that promised in purple prose that the water bed, its photo accessorized with the requisite female nude, was “a friend in love with you, beckoning you to grovel in rapturous sensual splendor.” There was a copy of Maxim magazine’s history of sex — “four billion years of quality nookie” — which noted Mr. Hall’s patent application. Playboy’s May 1971 issue showcased his velvet upholstered number, along with a glowing Lucite version made by Bloomingdale’s.

Soft sell: brochures and advertisements from Mr. Hall's collection.  Credit  Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

Soft sell: brochures and advertisements from Mr. Hall's collection. Credit Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

It was the 50th anniversary, more or less, of the water bed’s beginnings, and Mr. Hall, a soft-spoken man in a gray fleece and bluejeans, was newly bullish on his invention, which he has reprised and updated for a Casper world.

Three years ago, two of Mr. Hall’s long-ago colleagues, Keith Koenig of City Furniture (né Waterbed City) and Michael Geraghty, a former water-bed manufacturer whose company was bought by Sealy and who has sent water beds to burn victims in Russia, decided, as Mr. Koenig said, “that it was time. I said to Michael, ‘Get Charlie!’”

Mr. Hall’s next-gen water bed is called Afloat. A queen-size bed costs $1,995 to $2,395, which includes a heater, a kit to fill it up and drain it (a 25-foot hose is included) and a metal frame. A canvas sling helps to heft the deflated mattress around. (An unfilled queen weighs about 40 pounds; with water, it’s about 1,200 pounds. All Afloat beds fall within building-code floor-loading requirements, Mr. Geraghty said, adding that 1,200 pounds is roughly equivalent to six or seven people sitting around your dining room table.)

Since July, Mr. Koenig has been selling Afloats out of three of his South Florida stores to test the market. “The first order was maybe 100,” he said, “and they sold out pretty quickly.”

Next month, Mr. Hall and his colleagues said, you’ll be able to buy Afloat online. They promise a 100-night guarantee with a full refund, as Casper does, and free shipping. Mr. Hall said that he hopes Afloat’s market will be not just aging, achy boomers, but Gen Xers and millennials. “It’s like salmon,” he said. “They’ll return to the place where they were spawned.”

No Critters

And so, to bed.

Mr. Hall, who has spent most of his adult life sleeping on a water bed, lives alone with two Afloats: a dual mattress in his guest room, with side-by-side bladders you can heat or cool to your taste, and a king-size, single-bladder bed in his own room, a lofty extension he built a few years ago.

With 40 patents to his name, Mr. Hall also has houses in California (Sonoma and Santa Barbara) and nine sports cars, including a 1966 E-Type Jaguar Roadster, an Aston Martin, a Ferrari and a silver Mercedes coupe. He has two grown daughters; their mother, Suzanne, died 25 years ago of ovarian cancer. “She was my soul-mate,” he said.

Afloat’s logo on a bed in Mr. Hall’s home.  Credit  Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

Afloat’s logo on a bed in Mr. Hall’s home. Credit Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

Both Afloats looked perfectly normal, set upon low-slung platform beds. Mr. Hall, a collector of post-Mao Chinese art, whose taste runs to West Coast minimalism, had dressed them nicely. I took my shoes off and lay down, as Mr. Hall extolled a water-bed benefit I’d never considered: no critters.

“If you weigh a regular mattress after it’s been used for a few years, it will be heavier than when you bought it,” he said. “That’s because it will be filled with your sweat and skin cells, and the dust mites and bedbugs that feed on them.”

Moving right along, the bed felt great: There was a bit of motion, a kind of floaty up-and-down sensation.

“It’s got full cradling,” Mr. Hall said with pride.

“Two things are better on a water bed,” an early ad once announced. “One of them is sleeping.”

But wasn’t water-bed sex rather a challenge, I wondered, given the instability of the surface?

Mr. Hall blushed. “Because this water bed fills in any open spots, the motion is suppressed substantially,” he said. “The cuddling and position aspects are far better than anything you could imagine.”

I asked about his marketing plan: sex or comfort? “I think for our generation, it’s comfort,” he said. “Maybe sex for the millennials.”

A model atop the “Pleasure Island” water bed designed by Aaron Donner in a photo from 1971.  Credit  Heinz Kluetmeier/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

A model atop the “Pleasure Island” water bed designed by Aaron Donner in a photo from 1971. Credit Heinz Kluetmeier/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

In the mid-’70s, David Rockwell, the designer of hotels, hospitals and playgrounds, Broadway shows and a couple of Oscar ceremonies, slept on a water bed in his attic dorm room. He was in architecture school at Syracuse University then, and he chose the bed mostly because it was low and fit the look he was after: He had wrapped his room in red burlap, and the décor included a fish tank, a butterfly chair and a pair of Mexican huaraches.

“A bed that comes with its own climate is interesting,” Mr. Rockwell said in a phone interview, noting Afloat’s temperature control. “A microclimate! When it’s hot, you want an ice-cold drink. There is something kind of fabulous about being able to cool or heat the mattress. In a hotel context, I don’t know if it checks the box of dependable and affordable. It certainly checks the box of being different and quirky.”

There are still fortunes to be made in the bedroom. Mattresses are a $15 billion industry, according to Furniture Today, a trade publication. Last week, as it happened, David Perry, Furniture Today’s mattress editor, was in Orlando, Fla., for a conference, and he and his colleagues spent an afternoon at a City Furniture there, rolling around on the new water beds. He took notes.

“One retailer said, ‘The ’80s are calling, they want their water bed back.’” Mr. Perry told me. “Another said, ‘This is retro, and how hot is retro right now? Vinyl records are back, why not water beds?’”

“Obviously I’ve laid down on maybe thousands of beds over the last 30 years,” Mr. Perry continued. “These felt great. You could feel the water. You’re literally rocking in the water. That might be a ‘love it or hate it’ feeling. They harken back to the glory days of water beds, but modern technology makes them more comfortable than the water beds of yesteryear. These are positioned as premium products, a smart move, as consumers really want better sleep, not cheaper sleep. I think the timing is fantastic. Water beds were the original disrupters. They used to call inner springs ‘dead beds.’”

Warren Shoulberg, a retailing journalist and consultant to the home furnishings industry, also thinks the time is ripe for the return of this aqueous sleep aid.

“This generation doesn’t have the association that water beds eventually got as a place where lonely single men slept, in hopes of luring young ladies into their homes,” Mr. Shoulberg said. “The other thing is that consumers have no idea what’s inside most mattresses. It’s all gobbledygook. It’s this great mystery, and the industry loves it that way. It thrives on that confusion. The water bed is simple. It’s a big bag that holds water.”

Penelope Green is a reporter for Styles. She has been a reporter for the Home section, editor of Styles of The Times — an early iteration of Styles — and a story editor at the Times magazine. @greenpnyt • Facebook

Could Waterbeds Ever Make a Comeback?

BY JOHN DONOVAN  JUN 15, 2018 How Stuff Works

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The waterbed was born around a half-century ago as the counterculture's solution to something pretty basic. We're talking a lack of sleep, of course, though the promise of sloshy lovemaking was a definite selling point back in the day, too. It was an almost immediate, groovy-licious success.

By the late '80s, waterbeds accounted for somewhere around 15 percent of the bedding market, or a tidy $2 billion a year, according to a New York Times article at the time. If you were cool back then — or thought you were or wanted to be — or if you valued a good night's sleep on gently rolling waves or dreamed of nights filled with wild surfing passion, you owned a waterbed. Or you wanted one.

Almost as quickly as the waterbed revolution began, though, it crashed. The novelty wore off. The revolution died. The summers of love ended. The era faded away.

These days, sales statistics for waterbeds are hard to come by. But it's clear that things aren't like they were back in the swinging '70s and '80s and even into the '90s. The competition (mainly things like air mattresses and memory foam) has grown. The number of waterbed manufacturers and sellers has shrunk.

Do you even know anyone who still owns a waterbed?

Lynn Hardman does. He still sleeps on one every night. He's also sold thousands of them over the past few decades to countless satisfied customers.

Hardman owns Southern Waterbeds & Futons in Athens, Georgia, and say that business isn't like what it was in the '70s, a time when mattress stores didn't dot every strip mall in every suburb, and mom-and-pop shops didn't have to compete with the internet. But there's still business out there. The waterbed is still hanging on.

"It's like night and day," says Hardman, who has operated his store for 43 years, almost as long as waterbeds have been around. "The waterbed has really followed that baby boom generation from the counterculture of the late '50s to where we are today. The early customers [back then] were younger and, today, it's almost the entire opposite. The baby boomers are older — much wiser — and in some cases buying that final bed."

The New Waterbeds

Waterbed manufacturers and showrooms like Hardman's are still easy enough to find, if you're looking. Beds and mattresses by InnoMax, Boyd Specialty Sleep, Strobel, United States Watermattress, American National and others vie for pecking order in the market.

Most offer hard-sided beds that, like the first ones, rely on a major piece of wood furniture to hold the mattress in place. Newer, soft-sided water mattresses can stand on their own, though they all need some kind of a solid base because of the weight of the mattress. Depending on size, a water mattress can hold up to 200 gallons (757 liters), or more than 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms) of H2O.

The lure of waterbeds always has been the water. Aficionados swear by its all-around supportive properties. Hardman talks about being "enveloped" in a water mattress rather than laying on top of a standard one.

Most water mattresses now come with baffles, too, that control how "waveless" they are, for those turned off by that too-sloshy feeling. Most have heaters that can regulate the temperature of the water anywhere from 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 38 degrees Celsius).

The newest mattresses are split into dual zones, too, so one person can enjoy a different firmness, temperature and wave-control than his or her sleeping partner. The waterbed of the 21st century, clearly, is not the fur-covered playground that Hugh Hefner put on his private jet and flew around on in the '70s. (It was round and had a Tasmanian possum bedspread!)

The modern version, Hardman contends, is way better.

"I still think the waterbed is the best bed that's ever been invented. Period. And there are a lot of people out there that feel that way," he says.

The Future of Waterbeds

The man credited with inventing and patenting the waterbed is septuagenarian Charlie Hall. He's come up with a new one that he's marketing through a string of furniture stores in Florida. From the Kitsap Sun in Bainbridge, Washington:

Gone is the wooden frame that made the older beds so hard to get out of, exchanged for a foam collar that surrounds the water bladder. Spandex covers the top of the mattress to give a floating sensation. A fiber insert quells waves and keeps the water bladder still. An updated temperature system keeps the water feeling just right.

The innovations, Hall is hoping, will spur nostalgia in some and interest a new generation of buyers in a piece of bedroom furniture that they may know little about.

"I think that some people will have a memory of it and want to revisit it just because they remember waterbeds and want to see how different they are," Hall told the Sun. "And then there'll be a generation, it'll be a total novelty for them."

Hooking that new generation of kids may be the biggest challenge in the waterbed's comeback. Hardman occasionally sees some young people in his store now. But they're accompanied by parents or grandparents who drag the kids along to show them a relic from the past.

"It's like a novelty item. They've never seen one before," he says. "It blows my mind that they haven't seen a waterbed."

This would all seem rather quaint if sleep weren't such a deadly serious topic. Research over the past few years has shown just how critical a good night's sleep is. A continued lack of sufficient sleep has been strongly associated with, among other health problems, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and a decreased life expectancy.

Hardman has a potential answer to that problem sitting in his store, just as it has been for the past 43 years.

"There's just something about that semi-weightless state that you can only get laying on a waterbed," he says. "There's something about it that's so soothing and relaxing."


The Strange Yet True History of the Waterbed in America

Amanda Harding March 14, 2018 CheatSheet.com

Even if you never owned one yourself, chances are you know someone who has or had a waterbed.

The waterbed hit its peak of popularity in the 1980s and has been on a steady decline ever since. In 1987, one out of every five mattresses purchased in the U.S. was a waterbed. These days you’re much more likely to order your mattress online and make a video of the unboxing than you are to fiddle with the cumbersome task of installing a giant, heavy bedfilled with hundreds of gallons of water.

Ahead, discover the history of this unique bed style and the reason why they might be making an unexpected comeback (just not for humans).

Modern waterbeds were invented by a design student

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Charlie Hall was just a student at San Francisco State University when he came up with the idea to fill a mattress with water and sleep on it. His previous attempts at providing total liquid comfort for lounging included chairs filled with cornstarch and gelatin.

Hall presented his master’s thesis project in 1968 and allowed his whole class to test out his waterbed creation. “Everybody just ended up frolicking on the waterbed,” Hall said.

It was the beginning of a mattress revolution.

Primitive waterbeds were made for comfort, not cavorting

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While Charlie Hall is credited with coming up with the first modern waterbed, there were some earlier attempts worth mentioning. Scottish physician Dr. Neil Arnot made a “hydrostatic bed for invalids” which consisted of a warm bath filled with water and topped with rubber. It was meant to reduce bedsores.

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who was bedridden with tuberculosis, wrote about waterbeds in one of his books but never actually made a real one. The first mention of waterbeds dates all the way back to 3600 BCE, when ancient Persians filled goat skin mattresses with sun-warmed water.

Marketers made the waterbed sexual

Hall’s intention wasn’t necessarily to sell waterbeds as sex aids — but the timing of their release coincided with the sexual revolution, and marketers quickly latched on to the idea of making the waterbed all about sex.

One company claimed that “Two things are better on a waterbed. One of them is sleep.” Another said, “She’ll admire you for your car, she’ll respect you for your position, but she’ll love you for your waterbed.” Even notorious lothario Hugh Hefner had a Tasmanian possum-covered waterbed.

In 1971, Time reported that “in Manhattan, the waterbed display at Bloomingdale’s department store for a while was a popular singles meeting place.”

The rise and fall of the waterbed was dramatic

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By the 1980s, waterbeds were more mainstream, moving beyond just playboy bedrooms and into modern suburban homes. Their popularity peaked in 1987, when one in every five mattresses sold was a waterbed and the market was worth $2 billion.

These days, the market share is down to five percent. But the real question is, “Why?”

Waterbeds are a real commitment

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Most people believe that waterbeds went out of fashion because they were a little “icky.” But some experts have a different theory.

Installing a waterbed was no easy feat. Running a hose to your bedroom, worrying about leaks, concerns over algae, and bans in certain apartment complexes meant that waterbeds were often more trouble than they were worth. And moving? Forget it. You might as well leave the whole expensive thing behind.

Even the waterbed’s inventor admitted that they were complicated and high maintenance.

The waterbed has come a long way

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Technology has changed the entire world, and waterbeds are no exception. Soft-sided “waveless” waterbeds aren’t quite as ugly as the ’80s version you’re probably picturing.

The water is separated into multiple compartments rather than one huge pocket so sleeping on one doesn’t feel as dramatic. New waterbeds look less like “pleasure pits” and more like regular beds.

These days, waterbed customers aren’t human

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Even though the waterbed market has been declining for human bedrooms, another species still sees the benefit. Time published an article in 2012 on the trend of buying waterbeds for cows.

There are entire companies devoted to creating waterbeds for cows to help reduce sores and infections since they’re less likely to grow bacteria. One farmer purchased $100,000 worth of waterbeds for his cows and justified it by saying, “Happier cows, happier milk.”

Waterbeds may never be as popular again — at least not for people. But at least the cows are udderly comfortable.

Source: https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/the-str...

The Weird True Story of the Rise and Fall of the Waterbed

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If you've ever slept on a waterbed, you know that it is a singular experience. My cousins had one growing up, and I thought it was the most fascinating thing — I had never dreamed that sleep could feel (or, let's be honest, sound) like that. Almost since its invention, the waterbed has been associated with excitement and even licentiousness — but ever since the late 1980s, when the waterbed hit its peak, it's been slowly disappearing from the American home, if not the American consciousness. Read on the for the weird true story of the rise and fall of the waterbed.

The waterbed, as we know it, got its start in California, in the late sixties. After experimenting with chairs filled with cornstarch and even Jell-o, Charlie Hall, a design student at San Francisco State University, hit upon the idea of a mattress full of water. Hall presented the water-filled mattress as his master's thesis one evening in 1968, and his entire class spent the night frolicking on it. Thus the modern waterbed was born.

first waterbed.jpg

Hall wasn't the first person to come up with the idea of filling a mattress with water. In the early 1800s, Dr. Neil Arnot created a 'hydrostatic bed for invalids' that was intended to reduce bedsores. The bed consisted of a warm bath filled with water and topped with a layer of rubber, which was then sealed to prevent leaks. And science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, inspired by the time he spent bedridden with tuberculosis, described a waterbed in great detail in one of his books, although he never bothered to build it.

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But it was modern technology that really made the waterbed possible. The invention of vinyl meant that a mattress that would reliably hold water and not leak was a real possibility, so Hall began his experiments at just the right time. Of course, it was the swinging sixties, and marketers quickly picked up on the waterbed's more tantalizing possibilities. One company claimed that "Two things are better on a waterbed. One of them is sleep." Hall sold waterbeds to members of Jefferson Airplane and to Hugh Hefner. In 1971, Time reported that, "in Manhattan, the waterbed display at Bloomingdale's department store for a while was a popular singles meeting place."

In the 1980s, the waterbed successfully made the leap from bachelor pad to suburban bedroom. At the peak of the waterbed craze, in 1987, more than one out of five mattresses purchased in the U.S. were waterbeds — meaning that enjoying that sweet, sloshy sleep was almost mainstream. But since then, their market share has declined to a lowly five percent. What happened?

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Some people have attributed the decline of the waterbed to their association with creepy '70s lotharios, but their popularity with suburbanites in the '80s seems to refute that. I think the real problem with waterbeds was that they were kind of a pain. Installing one meant running a hose into your bedroom, risking flood-like conditions. Moving a waterbed was even more complicated, requiring an electric pump or another device to siphon out the water. And the wooden frames could weigh hundreds of pounds. Plus there was the possibility of your mattress springing a leak, or growing algae (although, to be fair, this could be avoided by adding a little Clorox to the water upon the initial filling). Many apartment complexes banned them.

But the modern waterbed still had its adherents — and it might look (and feel) much different than you'd expect. New softsided, or 'waveless', water beds lack the telltale wood frame of the old models. They consist of a water-filled pouch or coils surrounded by foam sides, and look just like a standard mattress. Separating the water into multiple compartments cuts down on the wave action, which makes for a bed that's just as supportive and not nearly as sloshy (although maybe also not nearly as fun).

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Oddly, waterbeds may be finding a new market, but not a human one. Time, which first reported on the popularity of the waterbed in 1971, published an article in 2012 about the trend of buying waterbeds for cows. Yes, cows. Apparently this unconventional accommodation helps to reduce sores and infections, and is less likely to grow bacteria than beds of traditional materials like wood chips. There are entire companies devoted to producing waterbeds for cows. As one Oregon farmer put it: "Happier cows, happier milk."

So, in its own way, the waterbed persists. It may have disappeared, for the most part, from the American bedroom, but in the American psyche (and maybe the American farm), Charlie Hall's unusual invention still looms large.

Source: https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/waterbed-...

What Ever Happened To Waterbeds?

BY JEFF WELLS PRINTED FEBRUARY 10, 2016 MentalFloss.com

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For kids and adults alike, waterbeds used to be the coolest—until suddenly they weren’t. After a heyday in the late 1980s in which nearly one out of every four mattresses sold was a waterbed mattress, the industry dried up in the 1990s, leaving behind a sense of unfilled promise and thousands upon thousands of unsold vinyl shells. Today, waterbeds make up only a very small fraction of overall bed and mattress sales. Many home furnishing retailers won’t sell them, and some that do say it’s been years since they last closed a deal.

So what happened? Although they were most popular in that decade of boomboxes and acid-washed jeans, waterbeds had been gaining steam since the late 1960s, and in retrospect seem to have more substance to them than other notorious fads. How did our enthusiasm for sleeping atop gallons and gallons of all-natural H2O drain away so quickly?

By some accounts, waterbeds date all the way back to 3600 BCE, when Persians filled goat-skin mattresses with water warmed by the sun. In the early 1800s, Dr. Neil Arnott, a Scottish physician, created a “hydrostatic bed” for hospital patients with bedsores. This was essentially a warm bath covered with a thin layer of rubber and then sealed up with varnish. In 1853, Dr. William Hooper of Portsmouth, England patented a therapeutic rubber mattress that could be filled with water. It, too, was for hospital patients suffering from poor circulation and bedsores. In the mid 20th century, science fiction writer Robert Heinlein—inspired by the months he spent bedridden with tuberculosis in the 1930s—described waterbeds in great detail in three of his novels. The beds he envisioned had a sturdy frame, were temperature-controlled, and contained pumps that allowed patients to control the water level inside the mattress. There were also compartments for drinks and snacks, which sounds really convenient. It was, according to Heinlein, “an attempt to design the perfect hospital bed by one who had spent too damn much time in hospital beds.”

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The inventor of the modern day waterbed was an industrial design student named Charles Hall, who in 1968 submitted a waterbed prototype (made with a vinyl mattress rather than a rubber one) for his masters thesis project. Hall wanted to rethink furniture design, and was taken with the idea of fluid-filled interiors. Before settling on the waterbed, he had tried filling a chair with 300 pounds of cornstarch gel, which quickly rotted. He also tried using JELL-O as a filling, with similarly disastrous results. The introduction of water fulfilled his vision without the ick factor. During the graduating class’s thesis workshop, Hall told The Atlantic, students ignored other projects and ended up hanging out on his waterbed.

Hall established his own company, Innerspace Environments, and began manufacturing waterbeds for sale throughout California. Early customers included the band Jefferson Airplane, as well as the Smothers Brothers. Eventually Hall’s bed, which he named “The Pleasure Pit,” made its way into 32 retail locations throughout the state. Success was short-lived, however, as cheap imitators quickly flooded the market. By the early 1970s, dozens of different companies were manufacturing waterbeds, feeding the growing demand for a groovy new way to … sleep.

Although many associate waterbeds with strait-laced suburban living, back in the ‘70s they were a symbol of the free-flowing counterculture movement—more likely to be sold with incense and Doors albums than with fluffy pillows and high thread count sheets. “That fluid fixture of 1970s crash pads” was how a New York Times story from 1986 described them. The names of manufacturers and distributors reflected this: Wet Dream, Joyapeutic Aqua Beds, and Aquarius Products were a few that rolled with the times.

Sex, of course, was a big selling point. “Two things are better on a waterbed,” an Aquarius ad stated. “One of them is sleep.” Another ad proclaimed, “She’ll admire you for your car, she’ll respect you for your position, and she’ll love you for your waterbed.” Hippies and hip bachelors alike were the target market for the bed that promised the motion of the ocean. Hall even got in on the act, offering a $2800 “Pleasure Island” setup, complete with contour pillows, color television, directional lighting, and a bar. Hugh Hefner loved the craze, of course—Hall made him one covered in green velvet, and Hef had another that he outfitted in Tasmanian possum hair.

By the '80s, waterbeds had moved from the hazy fringe to the commercial mainstream. “It has followed the path of granola and Jane Fonda,” the Times noted. Indeed, waterbeds were available in a variety of styles, from four-post Colonials to Victorian beds with carved headboards to simple, sturdy box frames. Allergy sufferers liked having a dust-free mattress, while back pain sufferers were drawn to the beds’ free-floating quality. Advertisements by sellers like Big Sur Waterbeds played up the health benefits with shirtless, beefy dudes like this one:

People were also eager to try a new spin on something as boring as a bed. Kids, especially, loved the squishy, gurgling weirdness of a waterbed. If you were a child of the '80s, it arguably was as close to a status symbol as you could get. Manufacturers, meanwhile, fed the demand with novelty frames, bunk beds, circular love nest beds, and even waterbeds for dogs. They also improved the experience with innovations like “baffles” that cut down on the wave motion many beds created, thereby addressing the one-of-a-kind problem of people getting seasick in their own bedrooms. As waterbed mania swept the nation, specialty outlets like Waterbed Plaza, Waterbed Emporium, and the Waterbed Store opened up shop, and wave after wave of cheesy local television ads followed.

By 1984, waterbeds were a $2 billion business. At the height of their popularity, in 1987, 22 percent of all mattress sales in the U.S. were waterbed mattresses.

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Here’s the thing about waterbeds, though: They were high maintenance. Installing one meant running a hose into your bedroom and filling the mattress up with hundreds of gallons of H2O—a precarious process that held the potential for a water-soaked bedroom. Waterbeds were also really, really heavy. In addition to the filled mattress, the frame—which had to support all that water weight—could be a back-breaker. When the mattress needed to be drained, an electric pump or some other nifty siphoning tricks were required. Waterbeds could also spring leaks (as Edward Scissorhands showed), which could be patched but, again, added to the cost and hassle.

In the '90s, it became clear that the novelty of waterbeds couldn’t overcome the additional work they required. By that time, competitors like Tempur-Pedic and Select Comfort were also coming out with mattress innovations that offered softness and flexibility without making customers run a garden hose through their second-floor bedroom window.

These days, the waterbed market is still going, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. Mattress models are lighter than the models of decades past, and come with nifty accessories like foam padding and interior fibers that further cut down on the wave effect. They’re also outfitted with tubes or “bladders” that take in water rather than the entire mattress, making the experience less like filling an enormous water balloon. Most models are quite sophisticated, in fact. The Boyd Comfort Supreme mattress has all the technical specs of a household gadget: three-layer lumbar support, four-layer reinforced corners, “thermavinyl” heat resistant bottom layer, five-layer wave reduction system. That’s a lot of layers! There are also airframe waterbeds that stand firm on their own, and sophisticated temperature-control devices that keep sleepers warm. Marty Pojar, owner of The Waterbed Doctor (which takes mainly online and phone orders), told The Orange County Register that most of his orders come from customers in the Midwest and Northeast, where customers want to hop into a warm bed on cold winter nights.

Like those who still play Sega Genesis or prefer a flip phone to an iPhone, waterbed customers are fiercely loyal to their retro trend. But their enthusiasm alone won’t likely bring waterbeds back to the mainstream. Indeed, even the name “waterbed” carries negative connotations, retailers note. Pojar prefers to call them “flotation” beds. A Washington D.C. furniture salesman interviewed by The Atlantic said he oftentimes doesn’t tell customers when they’re lying on a waterbed. "Everybody who tries the ones we have on our floor is very happy with the feel, but some people won't get it just because it's a waterbed," he said. These days, the most promising market for soft, squishy waterbeds may, oddly enough, be cows.

Source: http://mentalfloss.com/article/71404/what-...

17 YEARS OF THE WATER BED: A SOCIAL HISTORY

By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN Printed AUG. 28, 1986 The New York Times

About the Archive
This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to archive_feedback@nytimes.com.

IT may never join the loftiest ranks of modern furniture design, those hallowed niches reserved for the likes of Mies van der Rohe or Charles Eames. And it is possible to overstate the cultural importance of the water bed. After all, the modern water bed began as a gurgling mass of velvet-topped vinyl, procured in bead-draped record stores along with incense and albums from the rock group Cream.

Still, if contributions to modern design were judged purely on the basis of emotions engendered, the water bed, that fluid fixture of 1970's crash pads, might be at the top of the ratings.

''A capitalist rip-off,'' a floor-loving purist said in Rolling Stone at that time. ''The bounciest bedroom invention since the innerspring mattress,'' said Time.

In the catalogue for last winter's ''High Styles'' show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Martin Filler called the water bed one of the ''most evocative furniture types of the time.'' Filled with up to 250 gallons of water and who knows how many tons of sexual promise, the organic, free-floating form seemed to capture the spirit of the age. Its mystique was skillfully perpetuated by water bed dealers and manufacturers. ''Two things are better on a water bed,'' read the copy of one popular advertisement in 1970. ''One of them is sleeping.''

But times change. ''When I was a hippie,'' says the San Francisco writer Ben Fong-Torres, a former water bed owner, ''I remember thinking that one day there would be a New Yorker cartoon in which you walked into an antique store and looked at beanbag chairs and water beds.''

Strangely, however, the water bed has not become passe. Rather, it has followed the path of granola and Jane Fonda. ''We have infiltrated the mainstream,'' says Henry R. Robinson, the president of the Trendwest Furniture Manufacturing Company and the official spokesman of the Waterbed Manufacturers Association.

The $1.9 billion annual sales of the flotation sleep industry, as it is known, now constitute between 12 percent and 15 percent of the American bedding market, according to Mr. Robinson. In comparison, sales hovered around $13 million in 1971. Water beds now come in popular styles such as four-poster Colonials, which account for 49 percent of current frame sales. There are Victorian water beds with etched-glass and carved headboards. They are sold today in suburban shopping malls in stores with names like Waterbed Plaza. ''The water bed buyer profile is not distinctively different today from conventional mattress buyers,'' says Leonard S. Gaby, a vice president of Simmons U.S.A., which began selling water beds in 1980 and now offers five different styles.

In perhaps the biggest blow to their Haight-Ashbury image, water beds will be making their debut in the popular Spiegel catalogue next year, according to Carl Truett, furniture buyer for the company.

About the only place water beds do not seem to sell, in fact, is New York City, which has the distinction of being considered the nation's worst market for water beds. Manufacturers blame this on restrictions against them in apartment leases and the high costs of retailing, but David Klein, a vice president of Kleinsleep, a major New York bedding retailer, has another theory. ''New Yorkers are urbane, sophisticated,'' he says. ''By 1970, New Yorkers were bored with water beds.''

Born in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, the modern water bed was designed by Charles Hall, then a student, as a project for a class at San Francisco State University. Though therapeutic flotation systems date to the early 1800's, and possibly beyond, Mr. Hall is widely considered the inventor of the water bed in its popular form. The designer had originally turned to starch and Jell-O as a filler rather than water, but the goo tended to swallow the sleeper. This gave rise to newspaper feature headlines such as The Toronto Star's ''Rancid Jell-O Led to First Water Bed.''

Eventually, Mr. Hall hit upon the right formula: a vinyl bag filled with water that was fitted with a temperature-control device and liner and set in a sturdy frame.

Mr. Hall's idea caught on instantly, but there were many cheap permutations. ''They were selling bags of water for $20,'' Mr. Hall says today. ''It was a disaster.''

Water beds became common on many college campuses, though their early reputation for leaks caused them to be banned by some campus housing authorities. A Vassar graduate of the early 70's, now a Manhattan banker, recalled, ''There was always a big scene in September with hoses hanging down from windows when someone moved their water bed in.'' She finally gave up on water beds, deeming them ''too squishy.'' David Klein said: ''It was a countercultural item. It was different. It was not the bed your parents had.''

In the mid-70's, stand-up comics and television sitcoms had a field day with water beds. In an episode of the sitcom ''Phyllis,'' for instance, Phyliss (Cloris Leachman) checked into a motel room only to discover a pink fur water bed. She later accidentally stabbed it with a letter opener, creating a geyser that gushed to the ceiling.

Such scenes created a profound image problem for the water bed industry. Mr. Robinson said: ''There was a stigma. The water bed was associated with sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, let's face it.'' Letitia Blitzer, 25 years old, of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., is emblematic of the water bed's image problem. ''They sort of looked left over from the 60's,'' she explains. ''I don't feel left over from the 60's. I can't tell you how fearful I was of having a garbage bag filled with water covered with psychedelic seagull and rainbow-decorated sheets.''

Nevertheless, at the instigation of her husband, Seth, also 25, the couple bought a water bed two years ago. Now, Mrs. Blitzer says, ''I'm glad I took the plunge.''

The advent of ''superwaveless'' mattresses has helped the water bed appeal to a more conventional market. The modification has ''made the water bed more of an adult product and taken away the major sales detriment,'' says Mr. Hall, who now designs beds for Monterey Manufacturing.

Perhaps the water bed, like so many other things in modern life, was bound to grow up. ''It's the old story of the counterculture becoming respectable,'' said Alan Dundes, professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California at Berkeley.

''The country is in a different mood now than in the 1970's,'' he continued. ''There is a movement of conservatism. The family is coming back. There is a shift away from the self-indulgence of the 1970's.'' He hypothesized that the water bed ''had to undergo a metamorphosis and conform to an image of respectability in order to survive.''

Some of the water bed's original fans have changed, too. Marleen Nienhuis gave up the water bed she had purchased in Greenwich Village over 10 years ago, relegating it to her attic in New Jersey when she took a job on Wall Street. ''It unleashed a reservoir of emotions,'' she said of her decision, but somehow the idea of sleeping on a water bed and then going off to work at a major corporation didn't jibe.

In her place are new adherents, unfettered by history. ''I love it,'' said Annette Zullo, who has a four-poster waveless water bed with a carved headboard in her ranch house in Copiague, L.I. ''You can hardly tell it's a water bed.''

Still, despite its mainstream status, the water bed remains a powerful symbol of earlier, more spontaneous times. Observed Rod Lauer, owner of

Novembre Waterbeds in Baltimore, one of the nation's oldest dealers, ''People kind of smile when you say the word water bed.''


Source: https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/28/garden/...

SSA Honors its Roots with a “Waterbeds” Link on the Home Page of their Association Website

The history of waterbeds is near and dear to the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA) because the SSA was formerly the Waterbed Association.  Our oldest members began their sojourn into the mattress industry with waterbeds.  Present SSA Chairman Mark Miller of INNOMAX CORP and past SSA President Denny Boyd of BOYD SLEEP (formerly Boyd Flotation, and then Boyd Specialty Sleep) are longtime members and both began in the waterbed industry.  They are STILL a part of the small group of manufacturers and retailers who are involved with the waterbed business.

To honor this amazing industry, and help promote those who continue selling these unique products, the SSA has created an area within their association website devoted exclusively to stories about, and product information for the waterbed industry. This is an area where you will find press releases and product information for waterbeds TODAY.

A young woman listens to a pitch from a waterbed salesman.  (Image credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

A young woman listens to a pitch from a waterbed salesman. (Image credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Our roots are in waterbeds.
Denny Boyd offers his personal history with waterbeds. “I bought my first waterbed in 1973 and opened a waterbed store in 1977 based upon a business plan developed at the University of Missouri. I have truly enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of those unique individuals that brought a great idea to market.”  On his experience with the SSA, Boyd says, “As a member of the Waterbed Manufacturers Assn. (later the Waterbed Association) we were very accepting of further growth and innovative opportunities in the Sleep Industry through new products in the air bed and memory foam technologies. In light of the many manufacturers and retailers broadening their focus to new sleep technologies, our Association decided to transition the name to the Specialty Sleep Association to recognize, legitimize and encourage new sleep technology introductions.”  He continues,  “At Boyd Sleep we still have a very vibrant waterbed segment and have continued to innovate in this market with the recent introduction of our izone product www.izonebed.com. I am honored to have served as a past President of the Specialty Sleep Association, and appreciate its ongoing dedication not only to its foundation in waterbeds, but its continuing growth with innovative sleep products.”  You can visit the page where Boyd outlines the The History of the Waterbed Mattress on his website.

Mark Miller says he is still a big believer in the category because of what waterbeds do differently than any other sleep surface. "We started out in 1975 as Rocky Mountain Inflate-A-Bed, solely based on the idea the world might enjoy something more advanced than just a bed with springs. We added waterbeds to our distribution portfolio in 1978 - and they have been a backbone of our business here at Innomax ever since." He says that while many sleep choices come close, “when it comes to what is truly right for you, your body, and the many sleep issues you may have, we feel it is imperative that we offer you the true magic a liquid support system can provide you due to its ability to not only reduce pressure on your body, but to offer you therapeutic temperature control benefits unique to a flotation bed.”    Miller said that for years Innomax remained staunch air and water flotation-only purveyors, but added other sleep surfaces to their portfolio according to customer desires.  “We found there began to be many waterbed myth’s needing to be debunked in the presentation process, and the evolution of sleep sales moved away from the waterbed as consumers focused on its “complications” more than its unique benefits.  Today we listen carefully to our customers and most definitely include flotation in the options we offer them.”  

Speaking about his thoughts regarding the evolution of the SSA, Miller said, “The Waterbed Association represented a truly exciting time in a world that featured primarily innersprings.  But as the waterbed and its ownership requirements (and in some cases its very dated looks) declined in sales, other simpler, less hassle and more economic choices like the futon came in vogue.  We watched as attendance of the waterbed-only seller at shows dedicated to the category decline as well.”  To the evolution of the association name from Waterbed to Specialty Sleep, Miller continues, “The advent of the Specialty Sleep Association provided a platform for not only water but a new and burgeoning set of sleep choice categories including developments in latex and PU foam, visco-elastic materials ,air and gel. The Specialty Sleep Association became a new platform for the future of sleep and bedroom innovations of all kinds, which certainly has led the way for the very market we are in today.”  Go to the Innomax website to read why Miller and his team think Waterbeds Are Cool.

A Look at the History
So – where did the whole sleep-on-water thing get started?  Let’s go way back to 3600 BCE, when some inventive Persians are said to have filled goat-skin mattresses with water warmed by the sun.  The next report was from the 1800s when two doctors introduced forms of waterbeds for hospital patients suffering from poor circulation and bed sores. Scottish physician Dr. Neil Arnott created what he called a “hydrostatic bed”, described as a trough of water, 6” deep, the size of a sofa, and covered with a rubber cloth to seal it. Then English Doctor William Hooper patented a therapeutic rubber mattress for hospitals that could be filled with water.   Though no new patents were filed, a bedridden science fiction author named Robert Heinlein, suffering from tuberculosis in the 1930s, wrote about his vision of a waterbed in three of his novels.  The beds he described had a sturdy frame, were temperature-controlled, contained pumps that allowed patients to control the water level inside the mattress, and even had handy compartments for drinks and snacks.

(Image credit:    The Atlantic   )

(Image credit: The Atlantic)

Fast-forward to 1968 when industrial design student Charles Hall, submitted a waterbed prototype (using a vinyl mattress rather than a rubber one) for his masters thesis project.  He turned his idea into a business, which attracted others with new design ides, and the Waterbeds launched themselves into a $2 Billion Dollar industry by 1984.

 Interestingly enough, Hall is SSA member Todd Youngblood’s Uncle (Todd served as Chairman of the Specialty Sleep Association for several years).  “Charlie Hall was to me first and foremost my uncle,” says Youngblood.  “As a little guy, I certainly didn’t fully understand my successful entrepreneurial uncle traveling to visit from California with his amazing briefcase mobile phone, but in the late 90’s when Charlie was gracious to welcome me to work for him in yet another successful venture, he showed me the clear value of hard work and perseverance.  As a serial entrepreneur Charlie has never stopped working on ideas that will change the world despite the adversity he has faced.  As a former chairman of the SSA – I would say that the world of specialty sleep is a better place because of Charlie Hall and his contributions.”  Visit hallflotation.com  for Hall’s own summary of his journey.

 At the top of their game in 1987, 22% of all mattress sales in the U.S. were waterbed mattresses.  In the 90’s the bloom fell off waterbeds, and transferred to the myriad of “memory foam” mattress designs which are still in vogue today.  Waterbeds remain a niche market, much smaller than in  their heyday, but vibrant and with a loyal following.  In fact, Charles Hall has been in the news this year for something new that he is offering with City Furniture's CEO Keith Koenig, and former waterbed manufacturer Michael Geraghty.  This trio is introducing what they describe as a redesigned version of the waterbed.  Read about it in this Miami Herald article by Dylan Jackson from this summer, “The Waterbed is Making a Comeback” and Brittany Bernsteins’ “Blast from the past:  Don’t confuse today’s waterbeds with the ones your parents had” in the Ft. Myers News.

 We are reprinting several of the articles that have circulated through the years about waterbeds, including the iconic New York Times article “17 Years of the Waterbed: A Social History”, printed in 1986, the extremely well done piece by Jeff Wells for the History section of Mentlefloss.com, “Whatever Happened to Waterbeds”, and the most recent overviews from Nancy Mitchel for ApartmentTheray.com,The Weird True Story of the Rise and Fall of the Waterbed”, and Amanda Harding for cheatsheet.com, “The Strange Yet True History of the Waterbed in America”, both written earlier this year. We encourage you to take a walk through Waterbed History in these articles – you can “remember the days”…

 The articles we will print hereafter will be discussing waterbeds TODAY, allowing us to stay involved with the products that are the roots of the Specialty Sleep Association.  For instance, check out John Donovons’ “Could Waterbeds Ever Make a Comeback” at How Stuff Works.   This article from June 2018 does a great job of summarizing the waterbed industry and talks to present-day waterbed retailers. 

 We at the SSA support all forms of flotation sleep, and we say with extreme enthusiasm, “we love waterbeds!”  Check back here with us from time to time to see what is new in the waterbed market.