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Pillow History

It hasn't always been stuffed with feathers. A look at the history of your favorite bedtime companion
Friday, April 4, 2008 | 11:15 a.m. CDT; updated 11:20 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pillows can be traced as far back as Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) and ancient Egypt. Head rests were found in pharaohs’ tombs. Early versions were for the privileged and rich, according to “Really Useful: The Origins of Everyday Things” by Joel Levy, but they were hardly cushy. Most were solid wood, carved or curved slightly in the middle.

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For more than a millennium, Chinese dynasties used wood, jade, bronze, bamboo and porcelain for pillows, which were shaped like or decorated with pictures of animals, plants, humans or even geometric figures, according to chinaculture.org.

Hard pillows were preferred on the theory that soft substances robbed the body of vitality and were bad for everything from blood circulation to keeping demons away.

The rich and powerful in ancient Greece and Rome used softer substances including straw, reeds and feathered down. Embroidered pillows and cushions became fashionable in medieval Europe, where they are found in illuminated manuscripts, according to Cherie Fehrman, author of “A Brief History of the Pillow in Europe.”

By the 16th century, pillows were increasingly commonplace, although the stuffing had to be regularly changed and the cases washed because of mold or vermin. Pillows were by then also taken to kneel on in church, while Bibles were often placed on their very own pillows. Much of today’s bedding was developed in the 19th century but not mass-produced until the 20th century.


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