Military Beds in History and their Influence on Modern Beds

Where did the design for the hammock originate? Were they created for sailors aboard ship or is their origin more landlocked? These military beds can be found in any sporting goods store today. You can even purchase them on Amazon.com. Have you ever thought about where exactly they came from? According to Wikipedia, Taino Indians in the Caribbean first used them. They protected themselves from snakes and bug bites with them by being suspending above ground while sleeping.

The army cot was a common piece of equipment during World War II, but what about during the previous World War or further back to Civil War or Colonial days? Were they around then? History doesn’t tell us much, but references to folding military beds are fairly common in the early Twentieth Century. There is also at least one reported finding of a Civil War era military cot in Dallas, Texas that dates back to the 1860s. Army hospitals used them quite frequently.

Military Beds in History and their Influence on Modern BedsSearch Amazon today for military beds and you’ll find items with names like “Blantex Non Adjustable Military Bunkable Bed” and “Earth Jamboree Military Style Aluminum Cot”. These are the modern day versions of what was once an essential piece of military equipment for the fighting men of yesteryear. Even today, portable military beds are standard issue for GI’s from the United States and other armed forces around the world. Do you think about that when you lay down on yours?

Columbus, the Indians, and Hammocks Imported to Europe

The hammock has been the preferred bed of choice for sailors since the New World now known as North America was discovered. It may have originated with the Taino Indians, but Columbus made hammocks popular when he brought some back to Queen Isabella in Spain. Within a hundred years they were found onboard any sailing ship and in the back yards of the affluent. Much like today, there were folks back then who liked to lie around and do nothing. Why not if you can afford to?

Military Beds in History and their Influence on Modern BedsThe British Royal Navy officially adopted the canvas hammock in 1597. Its original purpose was to provide a resting and sleeping area for sailors working on gun decks. Regular military beds (bunks) were used in other parts of the ship but space was limited where the cannons were mounted. Hammocks were also used frequently on overcrowded passenger ships traveling from Europe to America. Many of our ancestors braved the high seas in overcrowded holds, sleeping in canvas or mesh stretched from pipe to pipe – not exactly first class.

Of course, the modern version of the hammock is far more sophisticated. Check out the “Grand Trunk Ultra-light Hammock”. It’s a great example of how modern technology can make an old idea so much better. It’s 100% polyester and contains sturdy S-shaped hanging hooks and triple-stitched seams. It’s also mildew resistant and machine washable, perfect for camping, backpacking, or a day at the beach.

Trekking Across the South with Civil War Bedrolls

Military Beds in History and their Influence on Modern BedsHammocks are great for sleeping on a ship at sea, but for the foot soldier on land they were far too limited. Finding a proper spot to mount the hammock was only the first issue. The position of a hammock above ground made a soldier an easy target for ambush and limited them on speed when the need for a quick arousal was required. Though great military beds for the navy, the army took an entirely different approach. By the mid 1860’s all soldiers in the Civil War, on both sides, had adopted the bedroll as their preferred bedding option.

The Civil War bedroll consisted on one blanket rolled up, doubled over, and tied at the ends. Most foot soldiers preferred them over a knapsack because they were lighter and less cumbersome during long marches. It was common for a tin cup to be tied to the end. This simple combination gave each fighting man the basics he needed to survive. Eventually, the bedroll evolved into the sleeping bags we see in sporting goods stores today, but there are still traditionalists who prefer to make their own bedrolls our of canvas or oil cloth and blankets.

From Military Beds to Modern Hospital Beds

Military Beds in History and their Influence on Modern BedsHammocks and bedrolls were great for the field or travelling by ship, but once inside the military needed something more comfortable yet still somewhat portable. Early military beds evolved from the cots of the early Nineteenth Century some time during the Civil War era. They were simple frames designed to fold up for easy storage. By the late 1800’s these portable military beds could be found in barracks, warehouses, and hospitals throughout the world.

The man credited with inventing military beds is Thomas S. Lambert of Peekskill, New York. He filed a patent with the US Patent Office in 1862 for a “Military and Civic Bed Frame”. His design is still in use today, though the materials now being used for manufacturing are lighter and more wear-resistant. In his patent application he describes it as a “strong but light and neat portable bed frame with an elastic bottom and of variable width with the legs and head supports detachable so it can be used as a stretcher in the field.”

In 1872, a mattress company in Cincinnati, Andrew Wuest and Son, took Lambert’s design one-step further and developed the hospital bed. It was a mattress frame with a hinged head that could be elevated. This new invention eventually led to the Gatch Bed, a three-segment adjustable hospital bed invented by Willis Dew Gatch, and then the modern day push button hospital bed that first appeared at the end of World War II. The next time you visit or stay in a hospital or medical centre you might want to drop that titbit to the doctors and nurses. Chances are they may not know that their beds evolved from military beds.