A Brief History
In July 2015, The Guinness World Record for the largest pillow fight was set at a St. Paul Saints baseball game, where 6,261 participated in the event that was sponsored by the local manufacturer My Pillow. A pillow is one of those things that we do not seem to appreciate that much. From feather stuffed pillows to memory foam and microbead, there are many pillows to choose from. It seems they have always been there, ready to support our weary heads – but this assumption is not quite true.
In fact, the invention of soft pillows was a game-changer when it comes to the sleeping habits of people around the globe, but when were pillows invented, and by whom? How did they evolve? Read on for some interesting facts about the history of pillows which will leave you in awe of the bedtime companion you’ve always taken for granted.
1. The First Pillows Were Made From Stone
The pillow originally started around 7000 BC in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. Quite frankly, it was not particularly comfortable and was mainly introduced for practical reasons. Sleeping with your head on a stone prevented insects from crawling into your mouth, nose, and even ears when sleeping on the floor. Pretty gross, right? Despite them being made of stone, only the wealthiest could afford the luxury of a pillow. The rest of society had to put up with creepy-crawlies disturbing their sleep.
2. Ancient Views of Pillows for Health
We know today that since pillows support your head, neck and spine, they can prevent long term back and neck complications; however, ancient civilisations believed rock-solid pillows were the best choice since these were thought to provide the correct level of support for the body as well as prevent infestations of bugs, mites and fleas that could occur in softer fabrics. Yuck!
3. Opulent Pillows of Ancient China
Many dynasties of Ancient China took pillows seriously. They were also hard and solid but were made from a wider variety of materials than their previous counterparts. Ancient Chinese pillows could be made from bamboo, jade, wood and even porcelain. Bronze pillows were also a popular choice in these times.
One thing to note is that many of these pillows were highly ornamental and very elaborate. It further supported the view that pillows were only fit for the wealthy. They came in many different shapes and were often carved and decorated with beautiful designs. These ancient pillows are highly sought-after by collectors. If you find one of these in a car boot sale somewhere, you may want to snap it up!
4. The Greeks & Romans Invented the Softer Pillow
Thankfully, it is hard to imagine stone, porcelain and wood pillows in modern times. The softer pillows made with down and feathers that we enjoy today were invented by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They would stuff cloth bags with reed, straw and feathers of various animals before bedding down for the night. This practice made for the beginning of the softer pillows that we purchase and use today. Downs is still the most popular stuffing for pillows, which proves that they were a good choice for those who pioneered this design.
5. How Pillows Became a Necessity in Every Household
It was after the invention of iron beds and the raising of the sleeping platform, that softer pillows became more common – since they were less likely to attract insects and mites. Like many things, it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that pillows began to be mass-produced. The growing of cotton in the US in the 19th century also advanced the availability of pillows that were comfortable and washable.
A soft and comfortable pillow was no longer seen as a luxury for the affluent but a necessity for every household, which made pillows more widespread in use as they became more affordable to families from various walks of life. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite pillow? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Wright, Thomas. The Romance of the Lace Pillow: Being the History of Lace-making. Ruth Bean Publishers, 1982.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Donato Accogli of a pillow fight in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on by Sandstein. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.