What Happened to Waterbeds?

October 11, 2023

After a brief heyday in the 1970s, waterbeds disappeared. What happened to the beds that once symbolized groovy new ways to... sleep?

Charlie Hall, a student at industrial design school, invented the first waterbed intended for consumer use in 1968. By the time he was granted a patent for his innovation in 1971, the concept had gone from a hippie hobby to the mainstream, with dozens of companies producing low-cost imitations and cashing in on consumer demand.

During the height of their popularity, it was common for landlords to include a "no waterbeds" clause in apartment complex leases. This was based on the myth that waterbeds were too heavy to safely move. In fact, they weighed less than a refrigerator or bathtub and could easily be moved from room to room, but the fear was enough to drive many consumers away.

Another issue was the recurring problem of leaks that could cause property damage and a major hassle for owners. Time magazine reported on a couple who fell asleep on their waterbed, woke up to find the entire bedroom floor covered in algae and spent the next several days fighting insurance claims.

Eventually, traditional mattress manufacturers realized that people wanted softness and started working on their own innovations to meet the market's demands. Tempur Pedic, for instance, developed memory foam in 1991 and created the modern-day soft bed that has driven most consumers to turn their backs on the old waterbed.


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