Murphy bed – space efficient, comfortable and innovative – also known as the wall bed

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Katerina Bulovska
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Murphy Bed, also known as a wall bed, fold down bed or pull down bed, was invented by William Lawrence Murphy (1876–1959), after whom it is named, circa 1900. Murphy got the idea of a wall bed out of necessity. He was a bachelor living in a one-room apartment, in San Francisco in the late 19th century. Murphy wanted to invite friends over, particularly one opera singer, which in fact was the woman he loved. But, his tiny apartment had a standard bed taking up most of the space, and at the time, single men didn’t socialize with women in a room with a bed, well at least not the gentlemen.

So, since he only had one room – his bedroom, he was determined to convert it into a living room. With the help of a blacksmith, Murphy developed a mechanism, that would allow the bed to attach to a wall and fold up against it, and by doing so, to remain hidden in a closet when not in use. The creative solution turned out to be successful. Murphy married the girl in 1900 and applied for his first patent in 1911, and soon the Murphy bed was in production. Sales rapidly increased as more and more people were moving into the city and space was crucial.

A person operating a Murphy bed. Author: David Boyle. CC BY 2.0

The Simmons Company had a contract with Murphy to produce and sell his invention, but it didn’t take long for him to build his own factories. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Murphy Bed reached its culmination. In 1925 the company now named the Murphy Door Bed Company, Inc. moved its administrative center to New York City. The Murphy bed became so popular that the factories in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York were producing over 100,000 Murphy Beds per year.

However, the Great Depression and the rationing of steel during World War II limited its production. William K. Murphy, son of the founder, became president of the company. In the Post-war era, production remained low, as families began to move from the small apartments in the city, to larger houses in the suburbs, and no one was interested in space saving products. The situation dramatically changed in the 1970s, during an economic recession that changed the lifestyle of many Americans. They were forced back into smaller spaces and struggled once more, to make the most of the limited space. So, the Murphy bed gained its popularity back.

Murphy bed pulled out. Author: Joel. CC BY-ND 2.0

During the 80’s and 90’s, a new line was released, changing the Murphy Bed from a built-in to a piece of furniture, that turned out to be a true success. Since 1983, the president of the company has been Clark W. Murphy, grandson of the founder. The Murphy Bed Company is successfully selling their products in the United States, as well as in Mexico, Canada, Caribbean Islands and in other countries around the world. Today’s Murphy bed models are specially made with bookshelves, cabinets, desks, and more.

A modern version of Murphy bed. Author: Hiddenbed Corporation. CC BY 2.0

According to Clark Murphy, the space efficient and comfortable Murphy beds continue to be popular, especially in studio apartments, hospitals, firehouses, hotels, and dormitories. Interestingly, William Murphy never actually trademarked the name “Murphy Bed”. In 1989, his grandson attempted to sue a former distributor of the beds for using the name. However, the court decided that by then the term “Murphy bed” had become part of the common lexicon and could be used by anyone. The decision encouraged various manufacturers to start producing Murphy Beds.

Murphy bed and cabinets in library. Author:Giles Douglas. CC BY 2.0

Although William L. Murphy is credited with inventing the wall bed, several others had already similar space saving beds in other forms, among them Thomas Jefferson in his home Monticello. Also, folding beds appear in the first documented catalog by Sears and Roebuck in 1895. The oldest wall bed is on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Murphy bed even appeared in scenes of popular shows and films, such as The Marx Brothers, Police Academy II (1985) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) as well as Family Guy. It also features in silent films and comic scenes in early cinema, as in Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 One AM.