Until the 1990s, if you lived in the U.S. and needed a new mattress you probably began and ended your search with the letter S. Simmons (founded in 1870), Sealy (1881), and Serta (1931) were the CBS, NBC, and ABC of the mattress world: anything else was on the far end of the dial and virtually unsupported by advertising.*
The Big Three had sturdy, uncomplicated names. Simmons was named for company founder Zalmon Simmons. Sealy took its name from its place of origin: Sealy, Texas. Serta, which began life as the nearly generic Sleeper, Inc., is harder to analyze: I’ve found no etymology for the name, although it may have been an attempt to convey “certain.” (Compare Certs, a brand of breath mints** that debuted in 1956.) Serta and Simmons merged in 2012 to form Serta Simmons Holdings.
Everything began to change in 1992, when Tempur-Pedic – originally a Swedish company called Fagerdala Foams – introduced its “memory foam” (technically viscoelastic; the visco comes from viscosity) mattresses to the U.S. Tempur-Pedic doesn’t tell a story about its name, so I’ll have to guess that it’s an altered-spelling blend of temperature, pure, and orthopedic. (The mattress material is said to respond to body temperature.) As a name, it’s an improvement, to Anglophone ears, on “Fagerdala,” which may have been an anagram of the founders’ names. Tempur-Pedic was acquired by Sealy in 2012 and is now called TempurSealy.
After Tempur-Pedic, the deluge. Foam mattresses were cheaper than traditional innerspring mattresses, and they didn’t require separate box springs. As foam technology improved, more and more companies got in on the sleepy-time action. The advent of the Internet and direct-to-consumer sales encouraged even more competition. The final disruptive turning point was the development of technology that could compress a foam mattress down to a single inch of thickness so it could be packed in a box. Today, U.S. mattress sales total more than $14 billion (the figure is from 2014), and there are dozens of mattress manufacturers – see the Sleepopolis website for reviews and comparisons – whose names reflect a wide range of naming styles. Here’s my rundown of some of the most interesting names. So as not to drive myself nuts, I’m limiting the list to nationally or internationally available brands, which means I’ve left out a bunch of Bay Area names like Ergo, Essentia, and Earthsake. Founding dates are from Crunchbase, Wikipedia, and news reports.