The History of Pillows: A Lesson in Perfectly Plush Sleep

After hearing stories of some particularly bad nights of sleep from some of our readers, we set out on a mission to find the perfect pillow that would do away with all of our insomniatic woes. And here at Pillow Insider, it should come as no surprise that we’re obsessed with all things pillows. In that vein, we wanted to do a deep-dive into the history of pillows.

After all, it’s the bedtime accessory we trust to hold our heads and keep us comfortable every night, so they deserve a little more light shed. Let’s dive in.

When Were Pillows Invented, and By Who? 

The earliest human use of pillows is said to have started in around 7000 BC, but at that point, the ancient pillow was just a piece of stone carved into a shape that would support the head during slumber.

While different materials were used throughout history – bamboo, wood, gold, to name a few – it really wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the soft pillows that we are used to in modern history were introduced to society. The question of who invented the pillow is a bit murky, but in Europe and the United States, it seems the booming textile industry is to thank for stuffing pillowcases for ultimate comfort. 

It also wouldn’t be a history lesson without some seriously misguided and outdated information. In the case of pillow history, early pillow adopters believed that only women (and at first, only pregnant women!) should use pillows. Why? Because a man using a pillow was seen as a sign of weakness. King Henry VII can be thanked for that one – a man with six wives (and not a single pillow, apparently.) 

Thankfully, society has progressed past these notions and now believe in pillows for everyone. Isn’t it a relief to put those misconceptions to bed? 

Feathers, Memory Foam, and Beyond: The Pillow Progresses

Feather pillows were invented in Ancient Greece and Rome. They did not, however, gain popularity at that time because the materials were too difficult to come by and not viewed as worth the expense. 

Today, we have many different types of pillows, although there is some disagreement among the pillow connoisseurs about the number of pillow types. Some say 12, others 16, others still say 5.  We, however, are less interested in how many pillows there are, and more interested in why there are so many to begin with. So here are the factors we’ve found to be most important in choosing the right pillow: 

  1. Allergies and other sensitivities
  2. Temperature-regulation
  3. Body type/support needs 

For those struggling with allergies, cotton and gel pillows are ideal. For those who are sick of “flipping to the cool side of the pillow,” latex pillows and bamboo pillows are a great temperature-regulating bet. Finally, while we are well past the days of, “Pillows are for pregnant women ONLY,” certain pillow types offer more full-body and contoured support, including memory foam pillows, body/pregnancy pillows (obviously), and down or feather pillows. 

Pillow-Case Closed: Our Top Pillow Pick 

the history of pillows

Although the perfect pillow might be different for everyone depending on their needs, there’s something to be said for a pillow that is simply well-designed and designed to last. That’s why, when all of our pillow history research was said and done, we landed on a set of pillows from the Beckham Hotel Collection

These pillows are soft and comfortable (the outer fabric is 250-thread count), and feature an inner stuffing that is designed to cool you down and help regulate your temperature for a good night’s sleep. And for sensitive sleepers, the no-chemical, odorless, and allergen-resistant design is an added comfort bonus. 

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So maybe learning the history of pillows wasn’t the first topic we’d have picked if we were pulling straws in history class, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t a total snooze fest. That being said, a snooze fest sounds pretty restful … and with a new set of pillows, it might finally be possible.

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