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.
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.
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.