Hospital beds have come a long way from the medieval litters they were born from. From the top to the bottom, a standard modern hospital bed is 38″ wide by 84″ long, with the sleeping surface being 36″ wide by 80″ long. Let’s take a look at the history of hospital beds, and how they came to be what they are today.

A Litter of Good Ideas

The idea of the modern hospital bed actually traces its origin all the way back to the litters of Medieval Britain. These were simple contraptions made of two long poles with a sheet of cloth attached between them. The primary use of these was for transportation of persons after communal baths — this way they wouldn’t have to touch anything and get dirt on them after just washing. Because of their practicality, litters became popular in the transport of ill or immobile persons as well.

One of the earliest types of modern hospital beds is said to have appeared in London sometime between 1815 and 1825. It was a simple design — a bed with adjustable side rails — but no real documentation exists on it, or the person who invented it.

Hinged Design

In 1874, mattress maker Andrew Wuest and Sons registered a bed design with a hinged head. This was the beginning of manual elevation in hospital beds. The design was quickly adopted across America and Europe, but there was a problem. The heavy bed was difficult to move. Soon after this came the addition of casters and the change over from iron and brass to the much lighter steel. From there, the modern hospital bed was nearly complete.

One final upgrade was to be had, however. Dr. Willis D. Gatch was quick to conceive of a three-sectioned hinged design for the modern hospital bed. The bed’s three movable sections helped to ease bladder and bowel discomfort, adjust overweight patients to more comfortable seated positions, and overall prevent dyspnea. Gatch’s design is still used in many of the world’s hospital beds and is considered a predecessor to today’s adjustable beds.

Push to Start

In 1945, the final piece of the puzzle was invented — the push-button bed. This went through its own improvements and adjustments over the years and is now part of the standard modern hospital bed package, along with the wheels, adjustable side rails, and elevation of the three-bed sections.

These modern beds are essential to the comfort and healing of patients. Understanding the history of hospital beds and their evolution is important to help further advance them in the future.