Who Was Murphy and Why Is There a Bed Named After Him?

ArchiViz/iStock via Getty Images
ArchiViz/iStock via Getty Images

The Murphy Bed, also known as a wall bed, fold down bed or pull down bed, is a bed that’s hinged at one end so it can be folded up and stored vertically against a wall or in a closet. It’s useful in situations where floor space is at a premium, like studio apartments, dorm rooms, mobile homes and cruise ship cabins.

The bed is named, no surprise, after a guy named Murphy—William L. Murphy.

These kinds of beds had already been around in other forms for a while. Thomas Jefferson had his beds in Monticello hanging on ropes and hooks in the alcoves of the bedrooms, and Leonard Bailey received the first patent for a folding bed in 1899. Murphy’s innovation was at the bed’s point of folding. Using an old closet doorjamb and some door hinges, he built a pivot that allowed the bed to attach to a wall and fold up against it for easy storage.

The son of a gold-seeking 49er, Murphy worked a few different jobs around California before he came up with his invention. He broke in horses for a while, drove a stagecoach, and even served as sheriff of a little pioneer town. At the turn of the 20th century, he made his way to San Francisco and rented a tiny one-room apartment on Bush Street, which inspired his leap into the bed business.

Know When to Fold 'Em

The Murphy Bed Company says that Murphy’s standard bed took up most of the apartment’s floor space, which made having company a little difficult. Murphy wanted to entertain his friends at his home, so he began toying around with the folding bed idea.

As Gene Kolakowski, an executive at the company, told CBS News, though, there’s an alternate origin story where Murphy’s incentive was much greater. The version that Murphy’s descendants like to tell is that he designed the folding bed because he wanted to have a certain young lady over to his place, but the moral standards of the time deemed it inappropriate to have a woman in his bedroom. Desperate for some quality courting time with the woman, Murphy was inspired to find a way to instantly turn his bedroom into a more innocent living room.

Murphy eventually married that same girl and used a loan from her father to patent the “Murphy In-A-Dor Bed” and start his own company to make them. That same company continues to make them today, almost 100 years later. The beds aren’t as popular as they once were, though. Demand peaked in the early 1900s as manufacturing became the focus of the American economy and people flocked to jobs in urban areas. Disaster in the bed’s hometown caused a spike in sales, too.

After the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, the beds were placed in many new and rebuilt buildings to maximize space (according to Gladys Hansen, a curator at the Museum of the City of San Francisco, some of the beds already installed in the city folded up violently during the quake, injuring their occupants and killing at least one).

The Great Depression, the rationing of steel and other raw materials during WWII, and the post-war suburban housing boom all cut into the folding bed business, but the market is still big enough to support Murphy’s original company, plus a few competitors. In 1989 the courts ruled that the “Murphy bed” was no longer entitled to trademark protection because the public had come to see it as a generic term for beds that fold into walls, whether they were Murphy’s design or not.

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
kongxinzhu/iStock via Getty Images

This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

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Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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