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The Fascinating History of Murphy Beds

There is no denying that the Murphy bed is cooler than other beds – after all, who doesn’t love a good secret that they can reveal? Although many of us remember old, creaky Murphy beds from our grandparent’s house, the furniture has come a long way – and, surprisingly, has a long and fascinating history. What other piece of furniture is so steeped in tales of love, American history, and espionage? Let’s take a look.

Murphy beds, Monarch Murphy Beds

Most people think that William Lawrence Murphy was the creator of the Murphy Bed due to a love story gone viral before its time. Mr. Murphy lived in San Franciso around 1900, and as the story goes, he became quite smitten with a young opera singer. However, Murphy lived in a studio apartment, making his living room and his bedroom one and the same. The conventions of the time didn’t allow the young couple to socialize in a man’s bedroom, so necessity became the mother of invention. Murphy designed a bed on a metal frame that could be tucked away in a closet when the young lady was visiting. While the invention was entirely successful – the couple later married – the original idea for the Murphy Bed had been around long before the young man fell in love.

Founding Fathers and Freed Slaves

Thomas Jefferson was rumored to have a foldout bed at his home in Monticello, Virginia, now a national landmark. The contraption involved ropes and a folding metal frame, but the design never caught on, but the idea was too good to fade into obscurity. In 1899, African American inventor Leonard C. Bailey filed a patent for a metal bed frame and mattress that folded in the middle, making it more of an ancestor to the sofa bed than the modern Murphy bed. In the same time period, Sarah E. Goode was the first African American woman granted a U.S. patent for her folding cabinet bed, which doubled as a writing desk when folded – a design much more closely related to today’s versions. Sarah, who had been born into slavery, died in 1905 – right around the time that the lovestruck Murphy was making a name for himself.

Hidden Doorways and Corporate Espionage

A few years ago, a man discovered a strange door in his newly rented apartment. The door swung around, revealing the remains of a foldout bed made by a company named Marshall (circa 1900.) Some detective work regarding the Marshall company led him to the accusations of Marshall’s concept being stolen by corporate rival William Lawrence Murphy. This version of events is not as heartwarming as the love story we had come to understand.

Even stranger is that Murphy never called his invention a Murphy Bed. Instead, he marketed it as “The Disappearing Bed” and officially patented the design as “In-A-Door Bed” in 1908. It wasn’t until 1911 that he opened The Murphy Bed Company, a manufacturing operation that lasted nearly a century and was eventually headed up by Murphy’s grandson. Although the bed has been called by a number of names, including wall beds and hideaway beds, the title Murphy Bed stuck, becoming so prolific that in 1989, the U.S. Courts determined the name to no longer be eligible for trademark protection.

Great Ideas Never Die

Now nearly 150 years old (depending on which story you believe), the Murphy bed’s popularity is enjoying a significant resurgence as Americans seek quality solutions to maximize their residential space.

Contemporary designs incorporate the needs of the family, creating upscale aesthetics and innovative solutions to optimize small spaces and provide greater flexibility in home design. 

If you are a Sarasota area resident looking for ways to transform your home and add to its functionality, call Monarch Murphy Beds to set up an in-store demonstration and consultation. Owner Shelly will walk you through the process of selecting the perfect bed and accessories for your space, needs, and budget – and ensure your new piece is delivered and professionally installed as well.

Murphy beds have come a long way since their inception – and this stylish and smart furniture must be seen to be believed. Call today to learn more and for a personal tour of the showroom.