Whatever happened to the water bed?

ST. GEORGE — Once a fixture in many American homes from sometime in the 1970s to late ’90s, St. George News set out to find the answer to the all-important question: Whatever happened to the water bed?

The furniture item secured more than 20 percent of the mattress market in the U.S. during the late 1980s and could be found on top of shag carpets in homes across the country next to the Boom Box and Cabbage Patch dolls.

“In 1986 the annual sales of the ‘flotation sleep industry’ rose to nearly $2 billion,” Henry R. Robinson from the Waterbed Manufacturers Association told the New York Times in August 1986.

They were once the thing to have and were even featured in Time Magazine in 1971. Decades later, the water bed would all but vanish.

St. George News set out to to ask local residents and visitors their opinion on what caused the water bed to become nearly extinct.

Watch the video top of this report.

People really loved the water bed because it just conformed to your body,” Ricky Hymer from the Mattress Store on Bluff Street in St. George said.

However, Tempur-Pedic came out with a mattress that provided the same level of comfort, pressure relief and support, Hymer said, but without the risk of leaks, water damage and motion transfer. The bed was also difficult to move, with filling, heating and assembling that required a great deal of time and effort.

“When Tempur-Pedic really started gaining ground, people saw the water bed phasing out,” Hymer said.

Many believe the iconic bag of water sitting inside the wood-frame box was something new as it gained popularity, but that’s not actually the case.

The earliest recorded use of the item was more than 3,000 years ago when Persians slept on beds made of goatskin bags filled with water, according to the British Waterbed Company, the United Kingdom’s oldest water bed manufacturer.

During the 19th century, physicians marketed the bed as having health benefits, and it finally hit the U.S. 150 years later when San Francisco State University student Charles Hall presented the water bed in his final thesis for a design class in 1968.

Hall refined its construction by using better materials and modernized production methods. The bed was the byproduct of an earlier invention in his apartment, which he called “The Incredible Creeping Chair.”

“I built a chair that was 300 lbs. of liquid starch encased in a vinyl skin. You would sit in this thing and it would creep up around you,” Hall said, according to a Time Magazine article in 1970.

The water bed fared much better, and in 1971, Hall obtained a patent and later became a wealthy man.

Water bed facts

  • A water bed can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, depending on the size and design.
  • It has a life span of 10 to 15 years and can last even longer based on the level of care and maintenance.
  • It would be virtually impossible to burst a water bed mattress, as it has no internal pressure.
  • The risk of a water bed falling through the floor is the same as an aquarium, washing machine or refrigerator falling through the floor.

Some believe the bed’s downfall was caused by a drop in domestic latex production, while others think the rental market is to blame for prohibiting the beds – or that it seemed to weigh 100,000 pounds when it came time to move it.

Regardless, as time went on, convenience and ease eventually prevailed.

While the old wood-framed water bed designs are an endangered species, a modern, more sophisticated model similar to regular box spring set may be making a comeback, complete with a mattress filled with H2O.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • ladybugavenger July 9, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    I had a waterbed and woke up all wet! Ughhhh I don’t know what did it. Perhaps it was my roommates cat plotting an evil revenge.

  • Proud Rebel July 9, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    As far as I was concerned, the biggest down side to the water bed was that once you really got comfortable sleeping in it, you could not be comfortable on any other type. Second biggest was the motion transfer. Had a rather large dog, and a rather small toddler. Dog suddenly transferred from the floor to the water bed, toddler suddenly transferred from the water bed to the floor. No injury, and it taught us to keep the dog out of the bedroom.
    Looking back on it, it was hilarious. At the time, it was anything but funny. At least no injuries happened.

  • The Dude July 9, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Motion transfer was not a design fault. It was one of the reasons for it’s popularity. I can rember some fond memories of “sleeping​” in a water bed.

    • Utahguns July 10, 2017 at 11:36 am

      I was one of the few who had a round waterbed. The motion transfer issue is correct, but, with a round shape, the waves quickly dissipated.
      Yes, finding round sheets and round bedspreads were rare in your typical stores, but still, the waterbed was one of the best sleep machines ever invented. Definitely miss it.

      • Utahguns July 10, 2017 at 11:46 am

        After making a comment, I google’d “waterbeds” and found a number of manufacturers and suppliers of waterbeds still in the business.
        Prices are definitely cheaper than your popular name bed spring manufacturers. Heck, they even have round waterbeds!
        Now I’ve got my interest up……
        BTW, Do they still make polyester leisure suits?
        “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…”

  • Sapphire July 10, 2017 at 10:04 am

    The best thing about a waterbed is that the frame makes a great platform for a real mattress! It is also a great place to hide things underneath in the support. Spouses have been known to drift apart.

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