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Who Invented the Waterbed?

When inventor Charles Hall first tried to patent his design for a modern waterbed in 1968, he quickly learned that truth can be just as strange as (science) fiction. It turned out that sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, author of novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, had already described waterbeds in several of his works. Even though Heinlein's literary creations never actually existed, the U.S. Patent Office initially denied Hall a patent due to the existence of Heinlein's detailed descriptions. Heinlein, who had been hospitalized for months with pulmonary tuberculosis as a young man, wrote in great detail about a more comfortable bed filled with water. In 1971, Hall was finally awarded a patent for his invention, which he described as "liquid support for human bodies."

Making waves with waterbeds:

  • In 1833, long before Hall and the modern waterbed, Scottish physician and inventor Neil Arnott filled a rubber canvas with bathwater as a way to prevent bedsores in hospital patients.

  • At its peak in the 1980s, the waterbed industry was worth $2 billion USD; approximately one out of every four mattresses sold was a waterbed.

  • A king-size waterbed in the 1980s could weigh as much as 1,600 pounds (726 kg). Most landlords still don't allow waterbeds because of the potential for damage.

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