Chances are, you’ve seen one while visiting a friend’s apartment; or maybe you even have one yourself. But either way, I’m willing to bet that no matter how familiar you are with Murphy beds, you don’t know the story behind how they got their name. And it might just might surprise you.
But let’s back up for a minute, shall we? The Murphy bed, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a bed that literally folds down from the wall—a clever little space-saving solution for anyone living in cramped quarters. Once you’re up and at ‘em, you can make your bed, lift it up by its pivoting metal frame, and tuck it away into the wall, where it can sit out of sight for the remainder of the day. The bed is often made to look as though it’s part of a bookcase or a large built-in armoire during the day, so it blends in with the room’s decor and guests are none the wiser.
Now, according to CBS News, the Murphy bed got its name from its inventor, William Lawrence Murphy, around the time it was created in the late 19th century. At the time, Murphy was a young man with a common problem facing urban-dwellers: He lived in a studio apartment, which meant the living room was the bedroom and the bedroom was the… well, you get the picture.
But social mores back then were a whole lot different than they are now. Women were prohibited from entering a man’s bedroom, which kind of put a crimp in Murphy’s dating life, since his entire apartment was basically his bedroom. That wasn’t about to deter him, though. Instead, Murphy designed a way to tuck his bed away in a closet, and poof!—there went his whole bedroom problem.
It’s a good thing, too; as the story goes, Murphy designed the bed mostly so he could invite over a young opera singer he was courting.
That woman would later become his wife in 1900, according to More Space Place—the same year he filed a patent to launch his own business, the Murphy Bed Company. And the rest, as they say, is history.
According to the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History’s Assistant Collections Manager Robyn J. Einhorn actually researched the history of the bed for her second master’s thesis, and found that its popularity came in large part from a “combination of good timing, a quality product, and an inventive marketing strategy.” Of course, a housing shortage at the time helped too, wrote Einhorn, as Americans were naturally moving into smaller living spaces.
Over the years, Murphy Beds have ebbed and flowed in popularity, but are now considered back in vogue; especially for people living in smaller-than-normal apartments. They’ve often been called pull-out beds, hideaway beds, foldaway beds, or even wall beds. But in essence, they’re all the same thing: A Murphy Bed.
The next time you see one, I’m willing to bet you won’t forget the story behind its invention. Or the ingenious young man who just had to win the affections of the woman he loved—so much so, that he made his own bedroom disappear.