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How Is Memory Foam Made?

Memory Foam Developed by NASA

The very first memory foam material was developed by NASA in the 1970s. Their intention was to try to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Memory foam has widespread commercial applications, in addition to the popular mattresses and pillows you are familiar with today.

Anybody who has gone shopping for a bed, a new pillow, or even a new bicycle seat or mouse pad wrist rest in the last two decades will have encountered memory foam. This new material has been applied to a huge range of uses since its introduction to the US in 1991—from revolutionary medical uses to gimmicky new product designs. But what is it, who came up with it, and how does it work?

Though it is a relatively recent phenomenon in the US, memory foam has been around in various forms since the midpoint of the century—the first work on the polyurethane polymers that go into memory foam was actually begun in 1937 by Otto Bayer and his coworkers In 1965 the nursing staff at Lankenau Hospital tested “inert polyurethane porous foam” pads for use as bedding material, and found that they prevented “decubitus ulcers” (also known as pressure ulcers, sustained by patients who spend long amounts of time lying down), and found them to be hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria (Kraus 1965). In the 1960s, NASA did work on materials that would serve as better cushions, and would also keep astronauts comfortable and protected from the extreme g-forces of lift off. It was then that memory foam as we know it came into being.

Memory Foam vs. Polyurethane Foam

Memory foam starts its life as polyurethane foam—a material first manufactured in the 1950s by adding water, halocarbons, or hydrocarbons to a polyurethane mix. Depending on the chemicals added and the way it is processed, polyurethane can form anything from car parts to spray liner, or in this case, one of the most comfortable sleeping surfaces the world has ever seen.

In the modern production of memory foam, a polyol is mixed with a diisocyanate and water. The foam rises like bread, with an open cell structure that helps give it its unique ability to spring back slowly from pressure. The introduction of gases into the initial solution creates a bubble matrix; vary the application of chemicals, and the size of the bubbles changes. A more open cell structure will have more give, and allow more airflow through the material.

Memory Foam Firmness

The firmness of memory foam is rated by the IFD (Indention Force Deflection), also known as ILD (Indentation Load Deflection) measuring the force in pounds required to make a 25% indentation in a 4 inch thick foam square. Also important in measuring the “softness” of a foam is the density. Foam densities range from 1-7 lbs, but a good-quality foam will usually be at least 4 and usually 5 lbs. A foam with a high density, but low ILD may still feel firm when compressed, especially in a lower room temperature. The density together with the IFD/ILD and the resilience will determine the softness, firmness, and life-span of the foam. Foam that is lower density will more readily conform to pressure, whereas higher density foam (usually 5-lb. or above) molds itself to contours when warmed by body heat.

Major production of memory foam did not begin until NASA released it into the public domain in the 1980s.Fagerdala World Foamstook up the challenge of producing this somewhat difficult product, and in 1991 produced the “Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress.” Today numerous companies around the world produce visco-elastic memory foam, which gives consumers increased variety and price range. Unfortunately, it also increases the risk of purchasing cheaply-made foams that may deteriorate over time. Not all memory foam is made equal, as many of the overseas manufacturers work at reducing the cost of memory foam by adding in other “filler” type ingredients that reduce the quality and potentially add toxicity to the formulation. The real problem with overseas foam is the lack of quality standards that have been created in the United States.

How we made the worldSerta Comfortable ® .

Since introducing the Perfect Sleeper® mattress to the world in 1931, Serta has been the name behind many “firsts” in the industry and gained a reputation for being a pioneer in comfort. In fact, every Serta mattress is designed to provide truly exceptional comfort, from our breakthrough iComfort® Sleep System to our iconic Perfect Sleeper®.

Today, Serta is proud to be the #1 mattress manufacturer in the United States and a leading brand across the globe. Our goal is to bring that exceptional Serta comfort to everyone by producing products that span every price point and mattress construction.

The Perfect Sleeper® mattress brand was released to the world—two years before the Serta brand name was introduced.

The Sertapedic® mattress was introduced with the tagline, “You sleep ON it, not in it.”

Serta released the very first plusher “Pillow Soft®” mattress to the world, defying the popular belief that a firmer mattress is always better.

In another industry first, Serta introduced a continuous coil innerspring design.

Serta launched its iconic logo, which is still used today.

The beloved Serta Counting Sheep made their first public appearance and quickly became award-winning brand icons. After a short diva stage, the sheep adjusted to their global fame and are now a dream to work with.

Serta became the first brand in the industry to make all of its mattresses meet or exceed the federal flammability standard.

The Serta Counting Sheep were herded into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Serta joined forces with the National Sleep Foundation to redesign its Perfect Sleeper® mattresses to help solve 5 common sleep problems: tossing and turning, lack of support, sleeping too hot, partner disturbance, and mattress roll-off or sagging.

Serta launched its breakthrough iComfort Sleep System, our most innovative sleep system with advanced cooling technology.

Serta achieved the ranking of the #1 mattress manufacturer in the United States.

Serta was named America’s Most Recommended Mattress, Pillow and Box Spring brand by the Women’s Choice Award, and earned the recognition again in 2015 and 2016.

What Beds Were Like in 1776

Long before steel-coil innersprings and high-tech memory foam—or any mattress at all, for that matter—early humans slept on layers of reeds, rushes, and leaves, where they bedded down along with their extended families. Then came piles of straw, woven mats, and cloth sacks filled with hay.

By 1776, beds in the United States were often a complex, layered affair. Wealthy colonists and their families even passed them down from generation to generation. We talked to art historians from the Pratt Institute, Strawbery Banke Museum, Columbus College of Art and Design, and Winterthur Museum to learn more about what the Founding Fathers would have been sleeping on at the time of American independence. Here are a few fascinating facts.

Early Americans slept behind really fancy curtains

After long days of arguing about the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams may have rested their weary bones in four-poster beds enclosed by heavy drapes on all four sides.

“The curtains were mainly for warmth,” explains Annie Coggan, associate professor of interior design at Pratt, who’s currently serving as a maker/creator and visiting scholar at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library in Delaware (a museum of 17th- to 19th-century American decorative art).

“There’s one interesting example that I have been looking at in York, Maine,” she says, “where the curtains and valance are very elaborately embroidered on the inside and outside of the curtain panels. A tour guide there alluded to the fact that the embroidery on the inside was stitched with particularly ‘saucy’ parts of the Bible.” (So much for Puritanical New Englanders!)

Betsy Ross didn’t just make flags, she also made mattresses

In 1774, future first President George Washington purchased very floral chintz bed curtains for his granddaughter Nelly’s bedroom. Who made them? None other than Betsy Ross, creator of the first American flag. Along with being perhaps the world’s best known seamstress, she was also a professional mattress and feather-bed maker in Philadelphia, according to the education team at Strawbery Banke.

Before bed frames, people put mattresses on “bedsteads”

The 18th-century precursor to today’s bed frame was called a “bedstead.” Pre-industrial revolution, these four-poster frames were made from sturdy wood. Some were so intricately carved that they ranked as family heirlooms. A “sacking” of rope or leather crisscrossed between the sides of the bedstead to provide a platform for the mattress.

“Many homes in the U.S. in the 18th century featured design styles that were trendy in Europe, especially in Britain and France,” says Aaron Petten, assistant professor of art history and visual culture at Columbus College of Art and Design. “Queen Anne and Georgian styles were among the most prominent, although the audaciously ornamental designs of French Baroque and Rococo designs also featured in American interiors.”

Some Native American tribes used wood bedsteads, too

Before the colonists showed up in the 1600s, Powhatan Indians lived in towns in the Northeast, in houses made of saplings and woven mats. Anywhere from six to a dozen people lived in each house (or “yehakin”) and slept on wooden bedsteads lined up against the walls. Woven mats and animal skins served as bedding, with rolled mats for pillows.

“Mattress” meant something totally different back in the day

A prosperous American of the 18th and early 19th centuries slept on a bed made up of several layers. At the bottom was a simple, firm “mattress” pad or cushion filled with corn husks or horsehair. Next came a big featherbed for comfort, plus feather-filled bolsters and pillows. (The featherbeds sagged and were hard to lie flat on, so people slept propped up on pillows.) Town- and city-folk would have bought professionally made feather mattresses from someone like Betsy Ross. People who lived on farms, or close to them, may have made their own from goose and duck feathers.

Servants and enslaved persons slept very simply.

BlandairSlave Quarters, Howard County, Maryland.Source: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons [Page URL Image URL] As you might imagine, there were no fancy featherbeds for servants or enslaved persons in 18th-century America. They often slept on the simplest straw or hay pallets on the floor. In New England, servants slumbered “in the hallways or even the unfinished cavities of the house or the attic space if there weren’t rudimentary quarters provided for them,” says Petten. In the historic houses at Puddle Dock in Portsmouth NH that now make up the Strawbery Banke Museum, for example, servants and enslaved persons slept in the attic, even through cold winters.

Families covered their beds in layers and layers of blankets.

In many homes in the 18th century, cotton or linen sheets, a counterpane (a.k.a. blanket or bedspread), and an intricately woven coverlet or embroidered quilt covered the bed. Chilly New Englanders often topped all of these off with something called a “bed rugg,” a thick, heavy spread made from looped wool, like a carpet.

“Bed and textiles were often the most dear and expensive items in the household,” says Coggan. “In fact, the bedroom in the Paul Revere house in Boston is referred to as the ‘best room,’ because all the family’s ‘best’ stuff was in that room.”

Every day, someone stripped these precious textiles from the beds to keep things sanitary, then remade them at night. “Beds were taken apart and aired daily, and the mattresses flipped,” explains Coggan. “It was a process that took two people and lots of time.” (You can see what she’s talking about at about the 32:00 mark of an episode of the BBC history seriesIf Walls Could Talk.)

General Washington carried a collapsible bed to war.

George Washington slept on foldable “camp beds” during the Revolutionary War. He used this bed-in-a-trunk when he traveled to upstate New York to check up on troop encampments toward the end of the fighting. It’s currently on display at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

How Is Memory Foam Made?

Memory Foam Developed by NASA

The very first memory foam material was developed by NASA in the 1970s. Their intention was to try to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Memory foam has widespread commercial applications, in addition to the popular mattresses and pillows you are familiar with today.

Anybody who has gone shopping for a bed, a new pillow, or even a new bicycle seat or mouse pad wrist rest in the last two decades will have encountered memory foam. This new material has been applied to a huge range of uses since its introduction to the US in 1991—from revolutionary medical uses to gimmicky new product designs. But what is it, who came up with it, and how does it work?

Though it is a relatively recent phenomenon in the US, memory foam has been around in various forms since the midpoint of the century—the first work on the polyurethane polymers that go into memory foam was actually begun in 1937 by Otto Bayer and his coworkers In 1965 the nursing staff at Lankenau Hospital tested “inert polyurethane porous foam” pads for use as bedding material, and found that they prevented “decubitus ulcers” (also known as pressure ulcers, sustained by patients who spend long amounts of time lying down), and found them to be hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria (Kraus 1965). In the 1960s, NASA did work on materials that would serve as better cushions, and would also keep astronauts comfortable and protected from the extreme g-forces of lift off. It was then that memory foam as we know it came into being.

Memory Foam vs. Polyurethane Foam

Memory foam starts its life as polyurethane foam—a material first manufactured in the 1950s by adding water, halocarbons, or hydrocarbons to a polyurethane mix. Depending on the chemicals added and the way it is processed, polyurethane can form anything from car parts to spray liner, or in this case, one of the most comfortable sleeping surfaces the world has ever seen.

In the modern production of memory foam, a polyol is mixed with a diisocyanate and water. The foam rises like bread, with an open cell structure that helps give it its unique ability to spring back slowly from pressure. The introduction of gases into the initial solution creates a bubble matrix; vary the application of chemicals, and the size of the bubbles changes. A more open cell structure will have more give, and allow more airflow through the material.

Memory Foam Firmness

The firmness of memory foam is rated by the IFD (Indention Force Deflection), also known as ILD (Indentation Load Deflection) measuring the force in pounds required to make a 25% indentation in a 4 inch thick foam square. Also important in measuring the “softness” of a foam is the density. Foam densities range from 1-7 lbs, but a good-quality foam will usually be at least 4 and usually 5 lbs. A foam with a high density, but low ILD may still feel firm when compressed, especially in a lower room temperature. The density together with the IFD/ILD and the resilience will determine the softness, firmness, and life-span of the foam. Foam that is lower density will more readily conform to pressure, whereas higher density foam (usually 5-lb. or above) molds itself to contours when warmed by body heat.

Major production of memory foam did not begin until NASA released it into the public domain in the 1980s.Fagerdala World Foamstook up the challenge of producing this somewhat difficult product, and in 1991 produced the “Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress.” Today numerous companies around the world produce visco-elastic memory foam, which gives consumers increased variety and price range. Unfortunately, it also increases the risk of purchasing cheaply-made foams that may deteriorate over time. Not all memory foam is made equal, as many of the overseas manufacturers work at reducing the cost of memory foam by adding in other “filler” type ingredients that reduce the quality and potentially add toxicity to the formulation. The real problem with overseas foam is the lack of quality standards that have been created in the United States.

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My sofa cushions were shot and uncomfortable. My new sofa sized mattress is working out perfectly. It is so very comfortable and just the right size. I wish I had done this years ago! I ordered a custom made fitted sheet to match the couch and it looks great! Thanks Nick for all your help with this!

My husband had built a window seat bench in our guest room and we needed a specific size mattress. The mattress you made is perfect, it fits wonderfully, its firm like we needed and it was delivered as promised, plus you helped me find a good company to make our sheets and protector for it. Service was great, product was great. Can’t say enough good things about this company.

Could not be happier perfect size , not too firm replaced a 15 year old UK mattress thought we would need to buy a new bed. Came within 2 weeks end to end process and price was excellent.

Happy with the mattress, which was customized to my requirement. Excellent client service.

I spent a lot of time searching for a latex mattress that was not too expensive and that I could trust the materials. I took a risk by ordering this mattress online without ever having tried it and with little reviews. It is very soft but you do not sink in like a memory foam mattress. We have had the mattress for one month and so far we are still very happy with it. The customer service is also really great.

The mattress fit beautifully into the built-in bed frame in our Princess-themed room. Soft and comfortable despite the wood board beneath it, and decked out with curtains and beautiful sheets and cover, it is perfect for our little grand nieces when they sleepover. Plush and maxes with really nice materials. Fit for princesses.

My son is 6’5 and 300 lbs. I got tired of seeing him squished up on a twin mattress with his legs falling off the bed. The lack of support would leave him feeling sore and not well rested each day. I am so glad we invested in a mattress that fits our son. He loves his new bed and says how well it supports him. We opted for a 84 in by full width mattress which allows us to use Cal King size bedding for it. The custom mattress only took a couple extra weeks to receive compared to ordering in store and the price was also comparable. So worth it! Thank you!

Well packaged and high quality mattresses! Very impressed.

The Cocoa Firm mattress has been great so far. It is soft when it needs to be and firm when it needs to be.
The customer service has be good throughout the ordering and set up.

Had to have a special mattress made to fit the futon frame. The mattress arrived in great shape and fit to size within a reasonable amount of time. So happy with comfort and results that I would purchase regular sized mattress from them.

Had so much difficulty finding right mattress for us. Tried a Queen elsewhere but could not get comfortable with the size going down from a king. Thankfully we found you and it just right with a custom size. Had mattress a couple weeks, wonderful sleep, staying cool and comfortable. Thank you.

Our mattress came fast, fit perfect and our daughter loves her first big kid bed!

The mattress is absolutely perfect and it is super comfortable. It fits my European bed perfectly!

I am so pleased with this mattress. It is firm and supportive, which is just what I need as a back sleeper. My husband needed a little more padding however, so we added a 2" gel foam topper and now we (and our cat) are sleeping very, very well. We also appreciate the firm edge. Thanks Yankee Mattress.

I ordered two mattresses for an old trundle bed that needed custom sizes. They were shipped quickly. Unfortunately on arrival there was a problem with one that didn’t fully expand to the ordered size. The company immediately responded by going above and beyond my expectations in remedying this, at no further cost to me, and did this in a very thoughtful and reassuring manner. The mattresses are a huge improvement over what they replaced, and the cost was very reasonable. This was the only manufacturer I could find that would construct a 6" mattress using coils, which to my tastes is far more comfortable than a block of foam. I’m delighted to have come across a company with a high quality product that was also a pleasure to work with.

Item came fast and customer service was easy to work with. The custom mattress was to exact specifications as ordered via website. The quality of the mattress exceeded my expectations as well. Will not hesitate to order again.

For 6 years I did not sleep well until I bought this mattress for my camper. I sleep all night now and I am so comfortable. I have recommended this to all my fellow campers if they are looking for a mattress. Yankee mattress company was so easy to work with they answered any question I had quickly. If I ever need another mattress it will be from them. Thank You Roxanne

I thought I’d never find a mattress to fit our ancient 4-poster bed, but decided to this a try. The customer service people were very helpful with advice on taking measurements. The mattress was delivered on time, just what we expected, and has worked out well.

Great new mattress! Easy to setup. Nice people and I enjoyed doing business with them. I honestly expected to spend more than I did for this type of mattress. Highly recommend!

Our old tempurpedic was killing my back, so I did some research through consumer reports and found that Sealy tested really well and was going to cost about 1500 dollars for a king. But when you read the reviews for all the major manufacturers (not just Sealy) it seems like half the people had a good experience and half didn’t. For 1500 dollars I didn’t want to leave it to chance. So I did some more research, found some US based mattress makers, and a local one (Yankee Mattress). My wife and I went to the Yankee Mattress showroom in Northampton, MA, met Nick the son in the father-son owned business. Nick is a great salesman in that he lets the products speak for themselves, no hard sell from Nick. We were already sold. We tried the Cocoa gel mattress equivalent felt like it was the right softness. The mattress was delivered about 3 weeks later by UPS. IT normally takes about two weeks, so when Nick realized there was a delay, he emailed me, apologized and offered me $50 off our purchase. You won’t get that service from the national brands, not to mention the cocoa gel was a fraction of the price!
We have our bed now and so far so good, my back feels fantastic. Thank you Nick!

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